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FCC Adopts Changes to Ownership Reporting Forms

Will require noncoms to provide personal info

The FCC adopted an order Wednesday that it says will improve data collected from broadcasters to help the commission analyze ownership and diversity issues.

That came the same day the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council was holding its Broadband and Social Justice Conference and calling for action on ownership diversity.

Actually, the FCC wrapped up a report and order on ownership diversity, a second report and order on Media Bureau data practices, and an order on reconsideration of its station registration system.

The bottom line, said the FCC, is that the moves will improve the reliability and comprehensiveness of its media ownership data, including on diversity. The FCC will require noncommercial station reporting to more closely square with commercial, which troubled commission republicans; and would reduce the filing burdens on broadcasters.

Also driving the change is the FCC’s desire to give attributable ownership interests a specific registration number to make that ownership information more easily searchable and usable.

The FCC is not requiring full Social Security numbers be part of that number, but providing even that much has raised concerns with those stations and the Republicans commissioners. Noncoms are concerned that the last four numbers combined with an individual’s name and address and other info would allow hackers to tease out a full number.

The FCC pointed out that it knows of no breach of such information to date and that the FCC is improving its information security. It also pointed out that no commercial broadcaster had opposed the use of the identifier.

Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented from the noncommercial registration number portion of the order, and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly concurred, which is short of support but not outright opposition.

“I cannot support the commission’s imposition of a requirement that the officers and directors of noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters provide us with personal information, including the last four digits of an SSN, to obtain unique identifiers,” said Pai. “For one, I fail to see how this will lead to any tangible benefit. After all, our multiple ownership rules do not apply to NCE stations.”

“I have reservations about the value of imposing the reporting requirements for commercial entities onto noncommercial educational (“NCE”) broadcast stations,” O’Rielly said. “Many of these NCE licensees have such attenuated relationships with their reportable interest holders (for example, the individual members of a board of governors for an entire state university system may be considered to own a college radio station) that it strains the understanding of ‘ownership’ beyond recognition.”

Broadcasting & Cable