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Pubcasters Say FCC ID Proposal Is “Bad Policy”

“The FCC’s proposal as it would apply to NCE stations is bad policy and legally unsupportable”

A group of 70 public television and radio station licensees has taken a stand on the way the Federal Communications Commission proposes to keep tabs on broadcast station owners in its effort to strengthen diversity.

On Dec. 4, the NCE stations submitted ex parte comments to the FCC in response to a proposed rulemaking on promoting diversification of ownership in the broadcasting services and amending the CORES registration system (in official parlance, these are listed as a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Seventh Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking).

The commission is proposing to require the use of Restricted Use FCC Registration Numbers. These RUFRNs would be used to identify individual interest holders on ownership reports that are filed by noncommercial educational radio and television stations.

In its comments, the public stations said they “strongly opposed” the proposal, saying the collection of information about governing board members of NCE stations will contribute “nothing useful to the FCC’s picture of diversification of broadcast ownership,” because persons reported on NCE ownership reports are not “owners” of broadcast stations, as that concept is understood by the FCCand the courts.

“Indeed, collection and retention of this information with commercial broadcast ownership information will taint the value of such information, by mixing data on ownership (of commercial stations) with data that does not reflect ownership (of NCE stations),” the group wrote.

They pointed next to privacy concerns. To be assigned an RUFRN, members of an NCE governing board would need to submit details like residence address, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number. According to the group filing, doing so would discourage worthy individuals from volunteering, cause harm to NCE stations and their relationships with their governing boards, risk the personal security of board members and cause compliance difficulties for NCE stations whose board members cannot be compelled to make the necessary disclosures.

“The FCC’s proposal as it would apply to NCE stations is bad policy and legally unsupportable,” the filing said.

The stations pointed to other alternatives, such as voluntary certifications by licensees of the accuracy of their disclosed board member information. The group requested that the commission amend the proposed order by removing the applicability of the RUFRN requirement.

The pool of 70 broadcast licensees includes educational organizations like the University of Alaska and the Regents of the University of California, and as well as public media companies like the the Hawaii Public Television Foundation and the Smoky Hills Public Television Corp.

Similar comments were filed a few days later by counsel to the University of Michigan, which said that the proposed rules could be improved by allowing public educational institutions that own radio stations to provide demographic information about individuals serving on the governing bodies of those stations, without providing so-called personally identifiable information.

“Demographic information about individuals serving on the governing bodies of public educational institutions that own radio stations would be of relatively little value to the commission’s efforts to increase diversity in media ownership,” the filing said.