ownership filing for noncommercial broadcasters

The changes in the FCC’s rules for Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 were today published in the Federal Register. That publication starts the 30 day clock for petitions for reconsideration or requests for appeal of that decision. We summarized the changes in the requirements here – changes that include putting noncommercial stations on the same schedule as commercial stations (filing on December 1 of odd-numbered years) and requiring that all licensees obtain, for every person or entity with an attributable interest, an FCC Registration Number (an “FRN”). To get an FRN, the licensee must either submit the Social Security number (“SSN”) of the person with an attributable interest (or the Taxpayer ID number if the interest holder is not an individual) or the last four digits of the SSN plus other identifying information (their full name, residence address and date of birth). The requirement for an FRN has triggered concern among many broadcasters, particularly those where licenses are held by a college or university.

Why? Some licensees fear that, even though the personal information necessary to get an FRN will not be made public, the submission of that information to the FCC may still somehow compromise the security or privacy of individuals with attributable interests. While the FCC assured licensees in its order that these concerns are overblown as the Commission says that it maintains information with a high level of security, there are still doubters. Nevertheless, the FCC has required that the FRN be obtained for all attributable interest holders, and threatened to take enforcement action against interest holders who refuse to comply. The FCC also identified for whom the information needs to be provided.
Continue Reading Appeal Date Set for Changes in FCC Rules for Biennial Ownership Reports – Why Many College and University Licensees are Concerned

Several months ago, we wrote of the FCC’s requirements for a new biennial Ownership Report for all commercial broadcast stations – to be filed by all stations in every state on November 1 of every other year – beginning with November 1 of this year.  The FCC has even suspended the requirements for commercial stations to file reports that were due between the date that the rule was adopted and November 1 (reports being due on the even anniversaries of the filing of license renewal applications for stations in the state to which the station is licensed). Yet, here we are, less than a month from the supposed filing deadline for the new forms, and we’ve not seen any notice from the FCC that the new forms are ready to be used or any reminder for broadcasters to prepare and file those reports.  What gives?  Well, the Paperwork Reduction Act has struck again.

We’ve written about the Paperwork Reduction Act before, and its obligation that the FCC (or almost any other government agency) has to justify any new paperwork obligation that it is imposing on companies that it regulates – showing that the burden is as minimal as possible and serves a necessary regulatory process.  Here, when the new ownership reports on FCC Form 323 were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act, several parties, including the NAB, objected that information requested by the new form was unnecessarily complex, and in fact might violate other Federal laws (in particular Federal Privacy laws) as they required not only the filing of information about the companies who own radio stations with identification of their owners, but required that each and every attributable owner of a station (and actually including a few nonattributable owners who must be reported under the new reporting scheme), obtain an FCC "FRN" identification number that would be attached to that person and uniquely identify them in connection with each and every broadcast interest that they have.  In most cases, that would require that the individual provide a social security number (and  corporate entities would have to file Taxpayer ID numbers).  While the FCC promised to keep those identification numbers private, security issues were not addressed and questions were raised why the Commission had to put so many individuals through so much of a burden when the FCC reports had not been adopted to track individual ownership interests, but instead to track the minority ownership of broadcast stations.  Other issues with the new forms were also raised, as the new forms would have required many filings for stations held in independent corporations, but with a common parent company as parent companies cannot simply cross-reference multiple licensee companies that they own, but instead have to file multiple ownership reports for each licensee company in which they have an interest.  In addition, ownership structures and other broadcast interests can no longer be identified by PDF attachments, but they instead needed to be separately entered into their own fields on the new form.  The idea was to make the information searchable – but it would also result in vastly more time to prepare these reports.


Continue Reading So What Happened to Those New Ownership Reports that Were Supposed to Be Filed on November 1?

The full text of the FCC’s revisions to its ownership report filing process was released last week.  The new rules will require that all commercial stations (including LPTV stations) file an updated Form 323 on November 1 every other year – starting in 2009.  The Order does not add much to the summary that we provided when the decision was first announced, though it does make clear that the electronic form will be revised to no longer allow for PDF attachments, instead requiring that all information be provided on the electronic form itself, so that it can be more easily searched.  With complex ownership structures, which are sometimes not easily explained in the confines of an FCC form, this may create some difficulties.  The Order did not seem to freeze the obligations for the filing of Form 323 Ownership Reports on the old version of the form on the current schedule while the new form is being created and approved by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act, so stations in states with June 1 deadlines for their biennial reports should continue their preparation (see our Advisory on the the reports that are due on June 1 for radio stations in Arizona, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, and television stations in Michigan and Ohio).

The Order also asked for further comment on the Ownership Report requirements for noncommercial licensees, including LPFM stations.  The Commission asks not only for comments on whether noncommercial operators should be required to file their reports on the same two year cycle as commercial broadcasters, but also for comments on what information should be required from these operators.  As noted by the FCC, the question of who controls a noncommercial station is often not an easy one – as there are varying degrees of control and oversight of station operations at many of the institutions that hold noncommercial licenses.  As noted by the FCC, there has been a Notice of Inquiry into noncommercial broadcast station ownership pending since 1989, trying to set out when there is a transfer of control of such entities that needs prior FCC approval.  Noncommercial stations have been operating under the interim policy set forth in that Notice for almost 20 years.  While the Commission does not seemingly ask for any change in the interim policy at this point, by gathering information about what ownership information should be reported on the new ownership report for a noncommercial entity, a resolution of that long-pending proceeding could potentially be in the works.


Continue Reading Rules On New Ownership Reports Released – Including Proposals for Information from Noncommercial Broadcasters