Online Radio Public Files and Ownership Reporting Changes

The FCC experienced a clipper system of its own by making several regulatory changes for broadcast stations March 21, 2016

Immediately before Washington, D.C., was shut down by a snow storm, the Federal Communications Commission experienced a clipper system of its own by making several regulatory changes for broadcast stations. At its January 2016 meeting, the FCC adopted a schedule for radio stations to move to an online public file system and also adopted changes to its broadcast ownership rules.

First, the FCC adopted a two-stage transition for all broadcast stations to maintain their public inspection files on the FCC’s cloud-based system. Television stations initiated this process in 2012, first in the larger markets, and then for stations outside the top market. Now, radio stations in the top 50 markets, with five or more full-time employees, will need to begin posting new materials into their public files upon the effective date of the new rules.

COMPLIANCE

Commercial stations outside the top 50 markets, all noncommercial radio stations, and those stations in the top 50 markets with less than five full-time employees, will need to come into compliance with the new rules by March 1, 2018. This group of stations may elect to migrate to the online public file before the March 2018 deadline, but they must notify the FCC of this decision, certify that their transition is complete, and the FCC made clear that these early adopters will not be able to rely on their paper copy of the public inspection file to demonstrate compliance with the rules.

Stations required to comply with the 2016 transition date will not be required to immediately upload materials that are currently in their public files. Instead, these stations will have an additional 60 days after the effective date to post earlier-prepared information. For example, if the new rules become effective July 1, the affected stations will need to post online their second-quarter 2016 issue and programs list by July 10, but will have an additional 60 days to upload the earlier-prepared lists.

Further, while the FCC has indicated that applications and ownership reports filed in CDBS will automatically migrate to the online system, it warned licensees to double-check their files  and upload any missing information.

The FCC took note of the ongoing election season and provided relief to broadcasters that must transition in 2016. Specifically, the FCC stated that the first-wave of transitioning licensees will only be required to upload information required to be kept in the political file on an ongoing basis, i.e., these stations do not need to upload political file information already placed in their file.

OWNERSHIP REPORTS

The FCC also made several changes to its rules relating to the preparation and filing of ownership reports. First, the FCC took note of the short period of time between the date on which the ownership information must be accurate, i.e., Oct. 1, and the past deadline of Nov. 1.

In the last two reporting cycles, the FCC had pushed back the deadline to Dec. 1, and the FCC revised its rules to make this change permanent.

Next, the FCC established Dec. 1 as the deadline for noncommercial broadcast stations must file their ownership reports as well, and the new form will require the submission of demographic information similar to that in the commercial broadcast ownership report.

Most significantly, the FCC attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with individuals obtaining FCC registration numbers. Every individual listed on an ownership report must have an FRN, and to obtain an FRN, individuals are required to provide the FCC with their complete social security number. In response to privacy concerns, the FCC created an alternative to providing this information, whereby individuals could obtain a “special use” FRN without providing their social security number. Difficulties arose from the use of SUFRNs because it was possible to have multiple SUFRNs, which prevented the FCC from completing its studies relating to the diversity of media ownership.

In response to these issues, the FCC created a new class of FRNs, the “restricted use” FRN. To obtain a RUFRN, the individual will be required to provide its full name, residential address, date of birth and the last four digits of its social security number. The individual will also be required to provide any previously obtained SUFRNs. While SUFRNs will still be available, the FCC will require documentation of the good-faith attempt to obtain a RUFRN, and the FCC held out the chance that it will seek enforcement action against these parties.

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