Financial records to be unavailable October 1-18 (maybe longer) as Commission implements new financial system

Don’t be lending the FCC any money if you need to get paid back before mid-October, at the earliest. The Commission has announced that the first 18 days (at least) of the next fiscal year – starting on October 1, 2010 – will be a “financial system blackout period”. The Commission is implementing a new financial system, and the down-time will be necessary to ensure that the new system gets properly installed and fully operational.

This could affect a variety of applicants and licensees, so listen up.

The good news is that, during the conversion period, licensees and applicants will still be able to:

  • file applications electronically and make payment on-line via the FCC’s “Remittance Over Secure Internet E-Commerce” system (known familiarly as ROSIE);
  • use Fee Filer system to pay their debts;
  • mail applications, paper filings, payments of debts, monetary forfeitures, voluntary contributions and Form 159s to the Commission’s lockbox bank in St. Louis;
  • file applications and other materials (e.g., reports, informal requests, petitions, etc.) with the Commission;
  • contact folks in the FCC’s financial office and it Financial Operations Helpdesk for questions and concerns.

And even more good news. Ordinarily, the FCC’s application system is set up to automatically dismiss applications for which the filing fees have not been paid within certain periods (10 calendar days after filing of most applications, 14 calendar days for International Bureau applications). That automatic dismissal process will be suspended until the new financial system is up and running, and applications won’t be dismissed until “system operations are returned to normal”. (The FCC promises to let us all know when that happens.) But note: this does not necessarily contemplate any “grace” period. That is, once the system kicks back in, it’ll be business as usual . . . and if the 10/14 day fee deadlines were missed by an applicant in the meantime, they could get bounced at that point.

The bad news is that time-sensitive filings “may incur processing delays during the conversion period”. So while the staff will continue to act on routine applications (including emergency applications and requests for expedited action), its ability to access certain files may slow things down some. The Commission strongly urges that anyone needing to file fees during the blackout should use Fee Filer, either by credit card or Automatic Clearing House payment (although, as noted above, ROSIE should be working, too). Still, everyone should understand that grants of applications may be delayed as a result of the conversion, particularly if the fee is paid by check.

So if you’re planning to file a fee-dependent application or request in the near term and you want it to be processed (and, who knows, maybe even granted) immediamente, it would be best to get everything filed, and the fee paid, as far in advance of October 1 as possible.

Applicants aren’t the only ones who might be adversely affected. The Commission will not (its emphasis, not ours) be processing refunds or vendor payments until the conversion has been completed. It does plan to makes sure all its vendor payments are current before October 1, though.

Perhaps the most ominous aspect of the FCC’s announcement is tucked away discreetly at the end of the second paragraph:

We remind applicants that, pursuant to . . . [Section] 1.1910(b)(2), “any Commission action taken prior to the payment of delinquent non-tax debt owed to the Commission is contingent and subject to rescission.’

This refers to a dire, but often overlooked, risk inherent in the FCC’s “red light” system. The Commission’s rules (Section 1.1910(b)(2), to be exact) provide that all grants of any kind are “contingent” until any overdue fees have been paid. In other words, if the staff grants your application but later discovers that you happened not to have paid all your, say, reg fees at some point in the past and were, therefore, delinquent, the staff could rescind that grant. The rule does not include any time limitation, which means that, to some degree, no grant is ever “final” and immune from rescission. (So much for “finality” provisions in contracts . . .) Ordinarily, of course, prospective applicants can check the FCC’s “red light” page to see if they happen to have been flagged as delinquent, but there’s no guarantee that the “red light” status shown won’t be revised after the check. The FCC mentions this now because neither applicants nor FCC staff will be able to access any “red light” status information during the blackout.

The Commission will notify one and all once things return to normal. We’ll do the same.