Dim the lights! Drum roll, please! Curtains! Cue the musicians . . . and . . . theme song (“Here it comes, Form 323, Here it comes, our ideal . . .”).
On December 8, the new Ownership Report form for commercial broadcasters was at long last made available for review on the FCC’s website. The unveiling was decidedly downbeat, at least as far as the Commission was concerned: it merely posted a new "headline" on the front page of its website, with a link to the public notice which it had issued four days earlier.
You can check out the new form on CDBS right now. Word is that it would be a good idea to do so, and maybe give it a test drive, because it may have some minor practical quirks that could take some getting used to.
As the Commission announced on December 4, they have provided a temporary work-around, for folks who are unable to get all the FRNs they might need to complete the form by January 11. The emphasis here is definitely on “temporary”: when you click on the “Special Use FRN” button, CDBS flashes up this helpful reminder:
Respondents must provide an FCC Registration Number (FRN) for all persons and entities reported in Question 3(a) of this Report. If, after using diligent and good-faith efforts, Respondent is unable to obtain a Social Security Number in order to generate an FRN for any specific individual whose FRN must be reported on Form 323, Respondent may click on the button below to generate an interim ‘Special Use FRN’ solely for the purposes of completing this Report. Respondents selecting this option should first read the Commission’s Form 323 Frequently Asked Questions concerning the ‘Special Use FRN’, available at http://www.fcc.gov/bureaus/mb/industry_analysis/form323faqs.html.
NOTE: The ‘Special Use FRN’ generated by selecting the button may be used only to file a biennial ownership report on FCC Form 323 and may not be used for any other purpose at the FCC. Moreover, use of the ‘Special Use FRN’ does not relieve Respondent of its ultimate duty to obtain a fully compliant FRN. To proceed with generating the ‘Special Use FRN’, select the button (‘OK’) below.
The take-home message here is that the Commission does not intend the Special Use FRN to be used simply because a respondent doesn’t feel like providing his/her social security number in order to get an FRN.
If you’re interested in knowing what you might find by clicking on the link providing in the FCC’s message quoted above, here’s what we found (this is the only place on the Form 323 page that refers to SUFRNs):
4. I am an attorney completing Form 323 for a client. I have made every attempt to get FRNs for all of the officers, directors, and attributable shareholders I need to report, but one of them refuses to get an FRN for himself and won’t give me the information I need to obtain one on his behalf. What do I do?
As a rule, all filers must provide an FCC Registration Number (FRN) for all persons and entities reported on Form 323. If, however, after using diligent and good-faith efforts, you are unable to obtain an FRN for any specific individual required to be reported on Form 323, the electronic form contains a mechanism for generating an interim “Special Use FRN” solely for the purposes of completing the form. The “Special Use FRN” may be used only to file a biennial ownership report on FCC Form 323 and may not be used for any other purpose at the FCC.
We remind individuals who must be reported on the form that they have the option of obtaining their own FRN directly from the CORES system, obviating the need to disclose their SSNs to anyone other than the Commission. We encourage individuals to provide FRNs to filers to alleviate any concerns they may have about disclosing their SSNs to filing entities. We note that Special Use FRNs are an interim measure to ease the transition to use of the revised form. Use of the “Special Use FRN” does not relieve a filer of its ultimate duty to obtain a fully compliant FRN. We expect filers using Special Use FRNs to update their filed ownership reports with fully compliant FRNs when these are obtained. (Added: 12/4/2009)
Curiously, that second paragraph seems to suggest that, in the Commission’s view, respondents may be more reluctant to provide the SSNs to people (say, their lawyers) other than the Commission, the implicit message being that everybody should be way comfortable in giving up their sensitive personal information (like SSNs) to the FCC. That’s an interesting notion, the validity of which we might be better able to gauge had the Commission ever bothered to disclose the FRN requirement to the public and seek comment on it.