Every two years, broadcasters are to file Biennial Ownership Reports on Form 323 to detail the ownership of the companies that hold FCC licenses. Since 2009, all commercial broadcasters across the country are to file such reports in the same window of time. Theoretically, these reports are supposed to be filed between October 1 and November 1 of odd numbered years, yet since the adoption of the uniform date, the November 1 deadline has never held. This year, too, the deadline has been moved (as we wrote here) to December 2. The window for filing such reports is now open, according to an FCC Public Notice released on Friday. As the reports are supposed to detail a company’s ownership report as of October 1, at this point companies should know what that ownership is, so that they can begin the process of completing the forms and getting them on file.
Noncommercial broadcasters are still on a system where they file their biennial reports on the anniversary dates of their license renewals, so the December 2 deadline does not apply to them (except for stations in those few states where December just happens to be the anniversary of their renewal filings, e.g. noncommercial radio stations in New England). However, as we wrote here when the rules for new Biennial Ownership Reports were adopted, the FCC is considering bringing all noncommercial broadcasters into the same system as their commercial brethren. The report forms used by commercial broadcasters for their biennial reports is more complicated than the normal ownership report form, requiring all individuals who have attributable interests in a licensee to get their own FCC Registration Number (or an “FRN” as it is commonly known), which in turn normally requires that the individuals provide a Social Security Number (or Taxpayer ID Number for entities that have interests in licensees). Having to provide that information has been a controversial requirement, with the FCC offering a work around for owners who refuse to provide that information (a work-around that the FCC has proposed to eliminate, a proposal that has not yet been adopted). Why the need for this FRN for every individual?
The FCC has required the unique identifier for each individual as it is looking to make all ownership information searchable by individual, so that interested persons can determine the interlocking broadcast interests of owners of broadcast stations. In addition, the form requires that the race, ethnicity and gender of individual owners be reported, so that minority ownership can be assessed and tracked by the FCC. To make all individuals and their interests searchable, the forms require separate fields for each bock of information – making the form complex to complete for companies with multiple owners who have multiple broadcast interests. These reports need to be filed electronically, and can take time to complete, so don’t wait to start work on the biennial report.
In the past, companies that had no change in the last two years could get by without filing anything more than a “certification of no change.” That is not an option anymore, but the information from the last report may be “pre-filled” by the electronic filing system into the new report, making it easier to complete. These reports also need to be filed by licensees that are individuals or general partnerships (who at one time were exempt), and by LPTV licensees as well. To get a full picture of minority ownership, the FCC requires reporting of its information from all commercial licensees.
So be ready for filing by the upcoming deadline. December 2 will be here before you know it!