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Noncoms Call Board Reporting Rule “Arbitrary”

They ask FCC to reconsider conclusions handed down in recent order

A group of public broadcasters wants the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider how noncommercial station boards must register. They called a recent decision on this matter “arbitrary” and “capricious.”

Numerous noncom educational television and radio licensees filed a petition for reconsideration of a January Report and Order that requires, among other things, FCC registration numbers (FRN) and restricted-use FCC registration numbers (RUFRN) for governing board members of NCE stations.

The list of licensees includes educational associations, universities and public broadcasting associations. They are concerned about requiring board members to provide full name, date of birth, residence address and last four social security digits. They argued that the collection of such information about board members of NCE stations would contribute “nothing useful” to the FCC’s picture of diversification of broadcast ownership because people named on NCE ownership reports are not actually owners. In addition, requiring such highly sensitive personal information will cause board members to have serious concerns about identity theft, violations of privacy and compromised personal security, they said.

Noncoms had expressed these concerns earlier but the FCC wrote in January, “We are not persuaded that the requirement will significantly inhibit individuals from serving on the boards of NCEs.”According to the commission, information collected will improve understanding of broadcast ownership and promote diversification.

In a response filed on May 3, the NCE stations said: “There is no fact, statement or argument in the record on which the commission can reach the conclusion that the concerns of NCE licensees are not real and serious problems as NCE licensees contend.” They objected to the commission’s claim that it is in a position to know how board members would react, or what fallout there might be from members forced to provide such information. Earlier arguments against the FRN/RUFRN requirement included the possibility that current or prospective NCE board members may decline to participate as board members and how that might affect NCE stations.

“[T]he commission arbitrarily and capriciously failed to consider an alternative data collection mechanism that would satisfy its perceived need for gender, race and ethnicity data on NCE station governing board members, without causing the harm demonstrated in the record,”the group wrote.

It also said the commission’s cited statutory authority for imposition of the FRN/RUFRN requirements — Section 309(j) and Section 257 of the Communications Act — does not apply to NCE stations or NCE ownership.

“In light of such harm, and the lack of statutory authority, the commission’s failure at the very least to consider a less harmful alternative that should fully satisfy statutorily authorized data collection needs is similarly arbitrary and capricious.” It asked the commission to reconsider those points within the Report and Order.