With the first batch of the next round of broadcast renewals due by June 1, 2011 – less than eight months from now – the FCC has announced plans to tweak the renewal application form (FCC Form 303-S) in five discrete ways. (It was just a month ago that we told you all to be on the lookout for such an announcement.) A copy of the form with the proposed revisions is attached here. 

The five proposed changes include the following:

  • The revised form’s instructions will include a new definition of “eligible entity” designed to reflect the Commission’s “Equity Debt Plus” standard for determining the attributability of certain interests. The version of that standard currently in effect was announced in the Commission’s Diversity Order adopted back in 2007. Presumably the language in the new renewal form will track corresponding language in Forms 301, 314, 315 and 345, all of which were revised about 18 months ago to address the same issue from the 2007 Diversity Order. (Why Form 303-S wasn’t taken care of at the same time as those other forms is not clear – perhaps the Commission felt no need to revise the renewal form at that point because no renewal applications would be due before 2011.)
  • Section II of Form 303-S will contain a required certification that the licensee’s “advertising sales agreements do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity and that all such agreements held by the licensee contain nondiscrimination clauses.” (The form’s instructions will also be revised to address that certification.) This, too, is a response to the 2007 Diversity Order, which for the first time imposed the explicit obligation that advertising contracts contain nondiscrimination clauses. As we observed back in 2008, the Diversity Order technically became effective in 2008, but the certification requirement reaches back to the beginning of the license term, i.e., considerably before then. That could create some practical difficulties (although Steve Lovelady’s post from October, 2008, might provide some guidance around those difficulties).
  • Section III of the form will include a new question (Item 4, with accompanying instructions) requiring the licensee to certify that, during the preceding license term, its station was neither silent, nor operating on less than the required minimum schedule, for any period of more than 30 days. If the licensee can’t so certify, it will have to provide an exhibit specifying “the exact dates … on which the station was silent or operating for less than its prescribed minimum hours.” If you don’t know what this is about, check out our post on the topic from last month. Note also that the proposed revisions to Form 303-S make clear that, for purposes of this certification, the “transmission of ‘test signals’ does not count toward a station’s minimum operating hours.”
  • The proposed revision of the form would eliminate the longstanding requirement that full power AM and FM licensees submit an exhibit to demonstrate compliance with RF limits. Historically, such an exhibit has been required if the renewal applicant wasn’t eligible to use the RF worksheets in the old Form 303-S. Under the revised form, all applicants would still have to certify that their facilities comply with the Commission’s maximum permissible RF limits – but no additional exhibit would be expected from full power AM and FM folks.
  • Finally, Section V (Item 4) of the form would be changed to clarify that LPTV stations still need to file Form 396 with their renewal application, even though they might not have to file an EEO-related public file report and post that report to their website. Previously, the form required a certification that the licensee had created the public file report and posted it to the station’s website “as” required by the rules. The new form would substitute the word “if” for the word “as” because not all LPTV licensees are subject to public file report requirement.

The good news in all this is clearly the lifting of the RF exhibit requirement from the shoulders of full power AM and FM stations. This should relieve one and all – both private sector applicants and FCC application processors – of an irksome chore, which is all to the good.

Interestingly, while the Commission did publish a notice about its proposed changes in the Federal Register, the Commission stopped short of also publishing a copy of the revised form. You’d think that the FCC would have made the new form available in the Federal Register in order to give everybody the maximum opportunity to look it over as soon as possible. Apparently the Commission doesn’t think like that. While this approach harkens back to the unfortunate situation we all encountered with the FCC’s effort to revise the Broadcast Ownership Report form (FCC Form 323), we need not worry about a re-play of that here. After reading the Federal Register notice, we wrote to the FCC asking for a copy of the form (which we have linked above and here), and the Commission kindly sent one over within a couple of hours.

At this point we can’t say for 100% certain that there aren’t any additional changes lurking in the 39-page form. The ones described above are the ones the FCC has identified in its Federal Register notice. The publication of that notice kicks off a 60-day comment period. Anyone wishing to chip in his/her two cents’ worth relative to the proposed changes has until December 13, 2010 to let the FCC know. After that, the Commission will forward the proposed form over to the Office of Management and Budget, which should give one and all another 30 days in which to comment. Given that timeframe, we can probably expect to see the new and improved Form 303-S online and ready for filing early in 2011, in plenty of time for the first round of renewals.