Back to the Drawing Board for Form 323


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On Dec. 23, 2009, the FCC again postponed the filing deadline for commercial station biennial ownership reports, this time indefinitely. However, commercial stations are still required to file ownership reports, using the FCC's new Form 323, for new stations and to report consummations of station sales.

On Dec. 8 the FCC finally took the wraps off its new ownership reporting form — six months after first announcing in the Federal Register that the new form had been designed — and said that all commercial licensees would be required to file the new form as a new biennial ownership report by Jan. 11.

In response to this announcement, representatives from a number of law firms met with FCC staff members to show that the new Form 323 was, as a purely practical matter, unworkable. Based only on a week of experience with the new form the lawyers pointed out cumbersome online processes, system timeouts and slowdowns, and losses of “saved” data, all of which contributed to massive amounts of time being spent and wasted in completing the form. Indeed, the group told of cases involving moderately complex ownership structures where the completion of a single form had taken hundreds of work hours. One suggestion for improvement was to allow the submission of other media interests' information, which now must be entered manually for each attributable owner for each station, in the form of a machine-readable spreadsheet. This modification, it was pointed out, would substantially reduce the time required to prepare reports by multiple station owners without compromising the FCC's data collection goals.

The law firms followed up with a joint letter requesting an extension of the Jan. 11 deadline as well as various mechanical modifications to the form to alleviate the data loss and manual data collection problems that had been encountered. The letter focused exclusively on the mechanics of the form. In the meantime, one of the participating law firms, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, supported by 10 state broadcast associations, followed up at the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. on an earlier unaddressed challenge to more fundamental legal issues regarding the privacy problems raised by the requirement in new form that all individual stakeholders submit FRNs based on their social security numbers.

On Dec. 23, the FCC agreed to suspend the Jan. 11 deadline. The suspension is indefinite, and is intended to allow the staff to investigate what changes can be made to get the form to work more efficiently without compromising the completeness, quality, usefulness and aggregate ability of the data. The Order provides that, once problems with the revised form have been resolved, the FCC will announce a new deadline which will be at least 90 days from the date the revised version of the new form is made available. The court challenge by Fletcher Heald and the state broadcast associations remains pending.

When the biennial form is eventually required to be filed, it will still have to reflect ownership as of Nov. 1, 2009. That means if the new form were to become available on, for example, March 1, 2010, reports would be due 90 days later, i.e., by June 1 — seven months after Nov. 1, 2009. Thus, some licensees and individuals will be reporting outdated information likely relating to entities or individuals with which the reporting licensees may have no connection, or only a past connection. Thus, the data the FCC will be collecting once it restarts the biennial ownership reporting process will be both outdated and flawed.


Dateline

For noncommercial radio stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, their biennial ownership report deadline is April 1. As noted above the deadline for submission of biennial ownership reports for commercial radio stations has been suspended.

April 1 is the deadline for radio stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania to electronically file their Broadcast EEO Mid-Term Reports (Form 397) with the FCC.

April 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following states to place their annual EEO Reports in their public files: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.


Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, Virginia. E-mail: martin@fhhlaw.com




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