After the election, it was clear that we would be seeing a much different FCC in 2017. Such transitions typically take time, as a president’s nomination of new candidates to fill the Chairman’s or commissioners’ seats, along with the delay typically associated with obtaining Senate confirmation, means that a new fully-staffed FCC won’t typically be ready for action until May or June following the January change in administrations. By that time, the actions of the prior FCC have often become final and unappealable, or at least the regulated industries have already begun to adapt their operations to comply with those rules, making subsequent changes more complicated.
Just 29 days ago, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued an unusual decision denying Petitions for Reconsideration of an order adopted by the commissioners themselves, raising questions as to who’s in charge at the FCC. The petitions were filed by noncommercial broadcasters in the Commission’s long-running proceeding to update its broadcast ownership reporting requirements. Today, a much different Media Bureau backtracked on that decision—the FCC’s rules give it 30 days to change its mind—and decided that ruling on petitions seeking reconsideration of a Commission-level order is a matter best left to the commissioners themselves.
It took a while to get to this point, but at the first public meeting of the Pai FCC, the Commission voted today to eliminate the requirement that stations maintain “Letters and Emails from the Public” in their public inspection files. As discussed below, that decision will have differing impacts on TV and radio stations, and even among radio stations.
When the FCC charged ahead to move television public inspection files online in 2012, there didn’t seem to be any upside for broadcasters, who objected loudly. Those objections were primarily based upon the fact that the FCC had managed to find a way to expend even more of a broadcaster’s resources on the rarely-read file, requiring that it now also be uploaded to an online FCC database. Uploading a public file is no small task, as an FCC review of TV public files in Baltimore in 2012 revealed that some contained more than 8,000 pages. In response to those objections, the FCC announced when it adopted the change that it would automatically upload applications, kidvid reports, and other documents it had access to, reducing the number of documents stations would need to upload themselves.
This Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.
February 1, 2017 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection file and post the report on their station website. In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by February 1, 2017.
Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.
In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.
Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application. The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities. Nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports with their license renewal applications.
In addition, all TV station SEUs with five or more full-time employees and all radio station SEUs with more than ten full-time employees must submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the midpoint of their eight-year license term along with FCC Form 397 – the Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report.
Exempt SEUs – those with fewer than five full-time employees – do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.
For a detailed description of the EEO rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group. This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies.
Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs
Consistent with the above, February 1, 2017 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations. LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO rules, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a public inspection file. Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request. Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in the station records file.
These Reports will cover the period from February 1, 2016 through January 31, 2017. However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before January 31, so long as they begin the next annual reporting period on the day after the cut-off day used in the immediately preceding Report. For example, if the Nonexempt SEU uses the period February 1, 2016 through January 21, 2017 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to January 31, 2017), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning January 22, 2017 for its report. Continue reading →
Last May, Jessica Nyman and I wrote about the potential impact of an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the requirement that stations keep “Letters and Emails from the Public” in their Public Inspection File. In moving public inspection files online, the FCC recognized that posting such letters and emails online creates privacy concerns, and required that stations continue to maintain such correspondence at the main studio in the local public file. The result was that many stations had to maintain and provide public access to a local public file solely to provide this one category of document.
Earlier today, the FCC released the tentative agenda for its January 31 meeting, and the sole item on it is:
Streamlining the Public File Rules: The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public in their public inspection file and the requirement that cable operators retain the location of the cable system’s principal headend in their public inspection file.
While we are still waiting to hear who will be chairing that post-inaugural meeting, for broadcasters, it’s a nice way to start the year. For more background on the proceeding and information on the likely benefits for stations, please check out our earlier post on the subject.
If trying to maintain the required paperwork for political advertising aired by your station gives you a headache, prepare for a migraine of biblical proportions.
With the departure of Commissioner Rosenworcel leaving the FCC in a 2-2 partisan split, there are really only two types of broadcast orders coming out of the FCC these days—those having the unanimous support of all four remaining commissioners, and those that can be done by the Media Bureau on delegated authority with or without the support of the two Republican commissioners. That was evidenced twice last week. The first was the Media Bureau’s rejection of various petitions seeking reconsideration of increased ownership reporting requirements for noncommercial stations. That action generated an immediate response from Republican commissioners Pai and O’Rielly, who released a joint statement chiding the Media Bureau for taking the action right before the FCC changes control, and encouraging the rejected petitioners to appeal the decision to the full Commission for reversal:
The Commission’s ruling no longer enjoys the support of the majority of Commissioners—nor is there a majority that supports today’s Media Bureau decision—so it was wrong for the Bureau to bypass Commissioners and reaffirm these reporting requirements unilaterally. . . . The good news is that today’s decision need not be the final word. We encourage public broadcasters to file an application for review so that the newly constituted Commission will have an opportunity to revisit this matter. It is pointless to require board members of NCE stations to report sensitive personal information (like the last four digits of individual Social Security numbers) to the Commission and will only serve to discourage these volunteers from serving their communities.
We might now be headed down a similar path with the political file. This past Friday evening, the Media Bureau released an Order expanding the recordkeeping associated with airing political advertising. Perhaps simply an error, but contributing to the appearance that the Order was rushed out to beat the change in administrations, is the fact that the formatting and text of the Friday night version deteriorates badly in the last third of the Order, with no text at all in the last 49 footnotes, the paragraph numbering changing, and the text of some paragraphs being in bold type and/or all capitals. The cleaned up version can now be found here. The Order responds to complaints filed by activist groups against eleven different stations owned by a Who’s Who of television broadcasters, with the FCC admonishing nine of the eleven stations for political ad recordkeeping violations. A separate order admonishing a twelfth station in response to a more recent complaint was also released Friday night.
But why would an order admonishing stations for alleged recordkeeping violations (which originated from complaints sitting at the FCC since mid-2014) need to be rushed out? Perhaps because it also “clarifies” that the admittedly vague rules on political ad recordkeeping require much more expansive political file records than most anyone has previously suggested (at least anyone who wasn’t trying to use the records for other than their intended purpose; for example, as a proxy for overall political ad expenditures). The clarifications apply not just to broadcasters, but to cable, DBS, and satellite radio providers as well.
Read without an understanding of the current political ad landscape, the clarifications probably seem dryly mundane. They include the following: Continue reading →
The next Children’s Television Programming Report must be filed with the FCC and placed in stations’ public inspection files by January 10, 2017, reflecting programming aired during the months of October, November, and December 2016.
Statutory and Regulatory Requirements
As a result of the Children’s Television Act of 1990 (“Act”) and the FCC rules adopted under the Act, full power and Class A television stations are required, among other things, to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.
These two obligations, in turn, require broadcasters to comply with two paperwork requirements. Specifically, stations must: (1) place in their online public inspection file one of four prescribed types of documentation demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television, and (2) submit FCC Form 398, which requests information regarding the educational and informational programming the station has aired for children 16 years of age and under. Form 398 must be filed electronically with the FCC. The FCC automatically places the electronically filed Form 398 filings into the respective station’s online public inspection file. However, each station should confirm that has occurred to ensure that its online public inspection file is complete. The base fine for noncompliance with the requirements of the FCC’s Children’s Television Programming Rule is $10,000.
Broadcasters must file their reports via the Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.
Noncommercial Educational Television Stations
Because noncommercial educational television stations are precluded from airing commercials, the commercial limitation rules do not apply to such stations. Accordingly, noncommercial television stations have no obligation to place commercial limits documentation in their public inspection files. Similarly, though noncommercial stations are required to air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under, they do not need to complete FCC Form 398. They must, however, maintain records of their own in the event their performance is challenged at license renewal time. In the face of such a challenge, a noncommercial station will be required to have documentation available that demonstrates its efforts to meet the needs of children.
Commercial Television Stations
The Commission’s rules require that stations limit the amount of “commercial matter” appearing in children’s programs to 12 minutes per clock hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per clock hour on the weekend. In addition to commercial spots, website addresses displayed during children’s programming and promotional material must comply with a four-part test or they will be considered “commercial matter” and counted against the commercial time limits. In addition, the content of some websites whose addresses are displayed during programming or promotional material are subject to host-selling limitations. Program promos also qualify as “commercial matter” unless they promote children’s educational/informational programming or other age-appropriate programming appearing on the same channel. Licensees must prepare supporting documents to demonstrate compliance with these limits on a quarterly basis.
For commercial stations, proof of compliance with these commercial limitations must be placed in the online public inspection file by the tenth day of the calendar quarter following the quarter during which the commercials were aired. Consequently, this proof of compliance should be placed in your online public inspection file by January 10, 2017, covering programming aired during the months of October, November, and December 2016.
Documentation to show that the station has been complying with this requirement can be maintained in several different forms:
- Stations may, but are not obligated to, keep program logs in order to comply with the commercial limits rules. If the logs are kept to satisfy the documentation requirement, they must be placed in the station’s public inspection file. The logs should be reviewed by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rules.
- Tapes of children’s programs will also satisfy the rules, provided they are placed in the station’s public inspection file and are available for viewing by those who visit the station to examine the public inspection file. The FCC has not addressed how this approach can be utilized since the advent of online public inspection files.
- A station may create lists of the number of commercial minutes per hour aired during identified children’s programs. The lists should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to be sure they reflect compliance with both the numerical and content requirements contained in the rule.
- The station and its network/syndicators may certify that as a standard practice, they format and air the identified children’s programs so as to comply with the statutory limit on commercial matter, and provide a detailed listing of any instances of noncompliance. Again, the certification should be reviewed on a routine basis by responsible station officials to ensure that it is accurate and that the station did not preempt programming or take other action that might affect the accuracy of the network/syndicator certification.
- Regardless of the method a station uses to show compliance with the commercial limits, it must identify the specific programs that it believes are subject to the rules, and must list any instances of noncompliance. As noted above, commercial limits apply only to programs originally produced and broadcast primarily for an audience of children ages 12 and under.
To assist stations in identifying which programs qualify as “educational and informational” for children 16 years of age and under, and determining how much of that programming they must air to comply with the Act, the Commission has adopted a definition of “core” educational and informational programming, as well as license renewal processing guidelines regarding the amount of core educational programming aired.
The FCC defines “core programming” as television programming that has as a significant purpose serving the educational and informational needs of children 16 years old or under, which is at least 30 minutes in length, and which is aired weekly on a regular basis between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Each core program must be identified by an E/I symbol displayed throughout the program. In addition, the licensee must provide information identifying each core program that it airs, including an indication of the program’s target child audience, to publishers of program guides. The licensee must also publicize the existence and location of the station’s children’s television reports in the public inspection file. The FCC has not prescribed a specific manner of publicizing this information, but enforcement actions indicate that the FCC expects the effort to include an on-air component. We suggest placing an announcement on the station website and periodically running on-air announcements.
Under the current license renewal processing guidelines, stations must air an average of at least three hours of “core programming” each week during the quarter in order to receive staff-level approval of the children’s programming portion of the station’s license renewal application. Stations that air “somewhat less” than an average of three hours per week of “core programming,” i.e., two and one-half hours, may still receive staff-level approval of their renewals if they show that they aired a package of programming that demonstrates a commitment at least equivalent to airing three hours of “core programming” per week. Stations failing to meet one of these guidelines will have their license renewal applications reviewed by the full Commission for compliance with the Children’s Television Act.
FCC Form 398 is designed to provide the public and the Commission with the information necessary to determine compliance with the license renewal processing guidelines. The report captures information regarding the preemption of children’s programming, and requires stations to create an addendum to the form called a “Preemption Report” which provides information on: (1) the date of each preemption; (2) if the program was rescheduled, the date and time the rescheduled program aired; (3) the reason for the preemption; and (4) whether promotional efforts were made to notify the public of the time and date that the rescheduled program would air.
Filing of FCC Form 398
Form 398 must be filed electronically on a quarterly basis. As a result, full power and Class A television stations should file a Form 398 electronically by January 10, 2017.
Preparation of the Programming Documentation
In preparing the necessary documentation to demonstrate compliance with the children’s television rules, a station should keep the following in mind:
- FCC Form 398 and documentation concerning commercialization will be very important “evidence” of the station’s compliance when the station’s license renewal application is filed; preparation of these documents should be done carefully.
- Accurate and complete records of what programs were used to meet the educational and informational needs of children and what programs aired that were specifically designed for particular age groups should be preserved so that the job of completing the FCC Form 398 and creating documentation concerning commercialization is made easier.
- A station should prepare all documentation in time for it to be placed in the public inspection file by the due date. If the deadline is not met, the station should give the true date when the information was placed in the file and explain its lateness. A station should avoid creating the appearance that it was timely filed when it was not.
These are only a few ideas as to how stations can make complying with the children’s television requirements easier. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on compliance with these rules or for assistance in preparing any of this documentation.
Class A Television Stations Only
Although not directly related to the requirement that Class A television stations file children’s programming reports, it is important to note that Class A television stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. While the relevant subsection of the public inspection file rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the public inspection file, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the public inspection file on a quarterly basis as well.
A PDF version of this article can be found at 2016 Fourth Quarter Children’s Television Programming Documentation.
The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ public inspection files by January 10, 2017, reflecting information for the months of October, November, and December 2016.
Content of the Quarterly List
The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station. The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.
To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the public inspection file a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.” By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.
Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations. The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below. We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness. Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during the license term. Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs. Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.
It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their public inspection file. The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.
Preparation of the Quarterly List
The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the public inspection file by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year. The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ public inspection files by January 10, 2017, covering the period from October 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016. All TV stations, as well as commercial radio stations in the Top-50 Nielsen Audio markets that have five or more full-time employees, must post their Quarterly Lists to the online public inspection file. Note that, effective as of June 24, 2016, the website for the new online public inspection file for both TV and radio stations is https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/.
Stations should keep the following in mind:
- Stations should maintain routine outreach to the community to learn of various groups’ perceptions of community issues, problems, and needs. Stations should document the contacts they make and the information they learn. Letters to the station regarding community issues should be made a part of the station’s database.
- There should be procedures in place to organize the information that is gathered and bring it to the attention of programming staff with a view towards producing and airing programming that is responsive to significant community issues. This procedure and its results should be documented.
- Stations should ensure that there is some correlation between the station’s contacts with the community, including letters received from the public, and the issues they have identified in their Quarterly Lists. A station should not overlook significant issues. In a contested license renewal proceeding, while the station may consider what other stations in the market are doing, each station will have the burden of persuading the FCC that it acted “reasonably” in deciding which issues to address and how.
- Stations should not specify an issue for which no programming is identified. Conversely, stations should not list programs for which no issue is specified.
- Under its former rules in this area, the FCC required a station to list five to ten issues per Quarterly List. While that specific rule has been eliminated, the FCC has noted that such an amount will likely demonstrate compliance with the station’s issue-responsive programming obligations. However, the FCC has noted that some licensees may choose to concentrate on fewer than five issues if they cover them in considerable depth. Conversely, the FCC has noted that other broadcasters may address more than ten issues in a given quarter, due perhaps to program length, format, etc.
- The Quarterly Lists should reflect a wide variety of significant issues. For example, five issues affecting the Washington, DC community might be: (1) the fight over statehood for the District of Columbia; (2) fire code violations in DC school buildings; (3) clean-up of the Anacostia River; (4) reforms in the DC Police Department; and (5) proposals to increase the use of traffic cameras on local streets. The issues should change over time, reflecting the station’s ongoing ascertainment of changing community needs and concerns.
- Accurate and complete records of which programs were used to discuss or treat which issues should be preserved so that the job of constructing the Quarterly List is made easier. The data retained should help the station identify the programs that represented the “most significant treatment” of issues, e.g., duration, depth of presentation, frequency of broadcast, etc.
- The listing of “most significant programming treatment” should demonstrate a wide variety in terms of format, duration (long-form and short-form programming), source (locally produced is presumptively the best), time of day (times of day when the programming is likely to be effective), and days of the week. Stations should not overlook syndicated and network programming as ways to address issues.
- Stations should prepare each Quarterly List in time for it to be placed in their public inspection file on or before the due date. If the deadline is not met, stations should give the true date when the document was placed in the public inspection file and explain its lateness. Stations should avoid creating the appearance that a document was timely placed in the public inspection file when it was not.
- Stations should show that their programming commitment covers all three months within each quarter.
These are just some suggestions that can assist stations in meeting their obligations under the FCC’s rules. The requirement to list programs providing the most significant treatment of issues may persuade a station to review whether its programming truly and adequately educates the public about community concerns.
Attached is a sample format for a “Quarterly Issues/Programs List” to assist stations in filling out the Quarterly List. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys in the Communications Practice for specific advice on how to ensure your compliance efforts in this area are adequate.
Class A Television Stations Only
Class A television stations must certify that they continue to meet the FCC’s eligibility and service requirements for Class A television status under Section 73.6001 of the FCC’s Rules. While the relevant subsection of the public inspection file rule, Section 73.3526(e)(17), does not specifically state when this certification should be prepared and placed in the public inspection file, we believe that since Section 73.6001 assesses compliance on a quarterly basis, the prudent course for Class A television stations is to place the Class A certification in the public inspection file on a quarterly basis as well.
A PDF version of this article can be found at 2016 Fourth Quarter Issues/Programs List Advisory for Broadcast Stations.
Being close observers of the FCC, Congress, and the federal government in general, we get a lot of questions about what the next year will likely bring in DC. While changes in administrations tend to increase the number of questions like that, rarely have I been as deluged with such requests as this year. Everyone wants to know what a Trump presidency will bring, particularly to the FCC. In the absence of solid information, many have rushed in to fill the information vacuum.
These prognosticators tend to fall into two camps: those who project onto the new FCC all their hopes and wishes (and who inevitably will be disappointed when the FCC charts its own path), and those who are just plain guessing, figuring that they will turn out to be right 50% of the time (overlooking the fact that there are way more than two answers to most problems in Washington). As a result, the only somewhat reliable chatter remains characteristically vague, focusing on very general trends (deregulation anyone?) and avoiding specifics.
However, even with a level of uncertainty at the FCC rarely seen in its 82-year history, there are quite a few things we can predict for 2017 with near certainty. You’ll find all of them in the Pillsbury 2017 Broadcasters’ Calendar, published earlier this week.
For example, without even knowing what proceedings a reconstituted FCC will elect to launch this coming year, we can already predict with a high degree of certainty that the most likely day for the FCC’s filing system to implode will be December 1. Why? Because with the FCC’s announcement this week that NCE stations will join commercial stations in having a unified December 1 ownership report filing deadline (yes, our Broadcast Calendar is that up-to-the-minute), pretty much every station in America will be making at least one filing by that deadline, with most making multiple filings (it is also the deadline for TV stations to file their DTV Ancillary Services Reports, and for stations in eleven states to file Mid-Term EEO Reports).
There are many other deadlines and requirements spelled out in the Broadcasters’ Calendar, so at least in that regard, broadcasters will know what is coming at them in 2017. And, as new developments occur in what promises to be a singularly interesting year at the FCC, you can be certain we’ll be discussing them here at CommLawCenter.
So if all the uncertainty is stressing you out, keep a copy of the Broadcasters’ Calendar close at hand, stay tuned to CommLawCenter, and remind yourself that 2017 isn’t a complete unknown.
Noncommercial stations caught a break today. For many years, broadcast stations filed annual ownership reports on the anniversary date of their license renewal deadline. Since those deadlines varied from state to state (and even between radio and TV in the same state), determining whether a station had filed its reports on time could be challenging. That task was further complicated by the fact that a licensee owning stations in multiple states could elect to consolidate the filing of its ownership reports for all stations on the license renewal date for any one state in which it had a station.
Ultimately, the FCC concluded that the reports didn’t need to be filed annually, and made them biennial. The result was that it became even more difficult for the FCC to keep track of whether a station had filed on time. In fact, a licensee that had consolidated its ownership report filing date across multiple states might not even be filing in the same year as the FCC would normally expect.
Ultimately, the FCC gave up and decided to adopt a unified national deadline for commercial TV and radio stations in 2009. At the same time, it expanded the list of entities that were required to file the reports (previously, sole proprietorships, general partnerships composed only of individuals, and LPTV licensees were exempt). It set November 1 of odd-numbered years as the consolidated filing deadline, and indicated that it planned to eventually adopt a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations as well.
However, the FCC quickly discovered that given the increased complexity of the reports, and the fact that the information reported in them was required to reflect a station’s ownership as of October 1 of that same year, broadcasters were having trouble generating all of the required ownership reports in just 30 days. The FCC also had some teething pains with the new electronic form, with the result that the November 1, 2009 deadline ended up being extended multiple times, ultimately resulting in a deadline for the 2009 reports of July 8, 2010.
After that painful ordeal, the FCC in 2011 permanently moved the commercial station deadline to December 1 of odd-numbered years, providing stations with a 61-day period to file the reports. Perhaps because of how difficult and drawn out the process of establishing a unified deadline for commercial stations had been, the FCC moved very slowly in establishing the promised unified deadline for noncommercial stations. It wasn’t until January 8, 2016 that the FCC moved forward on that front, adopting an Order creating a new online form (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 323-E) and establishing a unified national deadline for noncommercial stations to file it. Because the new form had to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (and that approval published in the Federal Register) before it could be used, it has still not gone into effect, meaning that throughout 2016, noncommercial stations have continued to file on a state-by-state basis using the old form. It therefore seemed likely that a lot of noncommercial stations would end up filing two sets of ownership reports in 2017—one set on a station’s license renewal anniversary, and one set on the likely December 1, 2017 unified filing date.
Thankfully, the FCC announced this afternoon that it would not be burdening noncommercial stations with dual filings in 2017, releasing an Order suspending all 2017 biennial ownership reporting deadlines for noncommercial stations and announcing that 2017 will indeed be the year that noncommercial stations will finally have a common ownership reporting deadline. That deadline will be December 1 of odd-numbered years, the same as the deadline for commercial stations.
That’s good news for noncommercial stations in general, and particularly for those with limited resources to make such filings. Consider it an early Christmas gift from the FCC.