With no approved form yet available, Media Bureau puts off November 1 deadline

The Media Bureau has blinked. With the original due date – i.e., November 1, 2009 –  for the initial filing of all biennial Form 323s fast approaching, but without OMB approval of the new report forms themselves, the Bureau has announced, on its own motion, that it is extending the deadline for filing those reports. Instead, the Bureau will release a public notice at some future point, specifying a new filing deadline no less than 30 days after that public notice.

As we have previously reported (here and here), the Commission decided last Spring to revise Form 323 (the Ownership Report for commercial broadcast licensees). It also decided to abandon the longstanding practice of having stations file their respective biennial Form 323s on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. Instead, the Commission said that all biennial Form 323s would henceforth be filed, biennially, on November 1 (with the reported information current as of the preceding October 1).

The problem that the Commission has since encountered is not surprising, in view of the fact that it set the new process in motion before it had come up with the revised form to be used.  Rather than have the revised form ready to roll last Spring, the Commission left it to the Media Bureau to concoct a new form, get it approved by OMB, and have it ready to roll by November 1. While the Bureau tried hard to get the job done, at least one aspect of the task – OMB approval – was out of the Bureau’s hands: the Bureau could prepare a revised form and ship it over to OMB, but the Bureau could not compel OMB to approve it quickly — or at all, for that matter.

Not surprisingly, as of October 2 OMB had still not approved the revised Form 323. (Considerable objection has been raised against the revised form before OMB, presumably slowing OMB’s deliberative processes down some and possibly – or likely, depending on whom you talk to – justifying OMB rejection of the new form. Since OMB could theoretically hold off on its decision until mid-October, the Bureau recognized that the uncertainty of the situation warranted putting off the deadline. And that’s just what it did.

So for the time being we can sit back and await OMB action. If OMB approves the revised form, the FCC will issue a public notice to that effect. In that notice the Commission will announce the new due date. (If OMB declines to approve the revised form, it is not clear exactly what will happen – but whatever it is, the FCC will presumably clue us all in with a public notice.)

Note that, for some reason, the Commission appears absolutely wedded to the notion that biennial Form 323s must be filed on November 1. The Bureau’s announcement of the extension specifies that, regardless of when the deadline ultimately falls this year, all biennial report filings in future years will be due November 1 (again with information current as of October 1).

Check back with www.commlawblog.com for further updates as events develop.