The FCC has just announced that the Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports for commercial broadcasters, due to be filed on or before November 1 of this year, will now be due instead by December 2. This is the third straight time that the obligation to file these reports has been extended, due to the complexity and confusion that surrounds the completion of the information that is required on the form. All commercial broadcasters, including LPTV licensees, need to file this form by the new deadline. As set forth in more detail below, at this point, this obligation does not extend to noncommercial educational licensees.
In 2009, the FCC adopted a requirement for modified Biennial Ownership Reports for all commercial stations, requiring that such reports be filed by all commercial broadcasters - including LPTV licensees, sole proprietors, general partnerships and other licensees who had previously been exempt from such obligations. The reports were to be filed on an expanded form that gathers information not just about who the owners of broadcast stations are, but also the race or ethnicity and gender of such owners. This information was to be gathered so that the FCC could better assess the minority ownership of broadcast stations. This was to be used for purposes such as developing new ownership rules for the broadcast industry. In fact, the information gathered from the first set of these forms was recently the subject of comment in the ongoing multiple ownership proceeding at the FCC (see our article here).
The forms were also supposed to be searchable by individual, so that the FCC or interested parties could easily cross-reference the broadcast interests of various individuals. To do so, however, required the gathering of new information, and required that every individual obtain an FCC Registration Number (an FRN), which required that they provide a Social Security or Taxpayer ID Number (for corporate owners of licensees) to the FCC. This obligation stirred much controversy. In addition, the format of the reporting of the other broadcast interests of individuals required much more time than had previous reports. That complexity has not disappeared over time.
Because of the complexity of the report, and the delays in its development, the first Biennial Reports using the new form, which were to have been filed in November 2009, ended up being filed in the summer of 2010. The 2011 reports, again supposedly to be filed on November 1, were delayed until December 1 of that year. Now, for the third time, these reports are delayed – this time until December 2 (as the 1st in on a weekend).
Commercial broadcasters should note this new deadline, and start preparing. Especially for related companies with stations held in multiple license subsidiaries, the forms can take significant amounts of time to prepare. For companies that have attributable owners that are themselves legal entities instead of individuals, several reports may be required. So start planning for these filings now.
Unresolved by this public notice are several rulemakings about the form that have been outstanding for quite some time. Noncommercial broadcasters are not part of this filing window, still being required to file biennially on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. The FCC has proposed to consolidate that obligation with the commercial station filing date, but no decision on that proposal has yet been made – perhaps partially given some of the controversy about exactly what information noncommercial broadcasters need to submit (see our article about this proposal here).
The FCC has also suggested that the information collected about commercial broadcasters be extended to include certain information about nonattributable owners of stations. Full social security number information for all owners is also suggested by the FCC (rather than providing an avenue to avoid reporting that information from a limited number of recalcitrant owners). See our summary of these proposals here. Again, these proposal have yet to be adopted, so that additional information apparently will not be required – at least this time around (though keep watching in case the FCC does issue a decision in this proceeding).
So watch for further developments on these issues, and prepare your Form 323 for filing on or before December 2, 2013.