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Court Sides With FCC in Ownership Form Dispute

Meanwhile commission denies WFMT request to use Form 323-E

The July 8 deadline for broadcasters to file new commercial ownership Form 323 remained intact this week, after a federal appeals court sided with the FCC (PDF) in a dispute with stations over the new form.

The forms have been controversial because all owners with an attributable interest in a facility must provide the commission their FCC Registration Numbers; and getting those requires a social security number. Law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth represented several state associations and broadcasters who said the new requirement was an invasion of privacy.

The DC Circuit denied the FHH petition, because now the FCC says no individual attributable interest holder will be required to submit a social security number in order to obtain an FRN. The court stated the petitioners had not demonstrated a “clear and indisputable” right to relief.

In a related case, the commission denied a request from Window to the World Communications for WFMT(FM) in Chicago to file a different ownership form. The broadcaster asked if it could file noncommercial Form 323-E, which does not require filers to provide social security number-based FRNs. Window to the World argued that it’s a non-profit entity and requiring its board members to provide their SSNs is a burden.

The FCC countered that though Window to the World is a non-profit entity, WFMT is actually a commercial station; and filing the commercial form did not seem to be a burden in the past for the station, the agency said in its decision. It reminded WFMT the Form 323 includes a way for a filer to generate a so-called “Special Use” FRN for any board members “unwilling to provide information necessary to obtain an FRN,” so a station may complete the form.

The agency believes waiving WFMT’s filing requirement would undermine the reason it’s changing the ownership form — to get more accurate female and minority ownership data.