Does the FCC really care about your input on a mandatory online filing requirement for the Forms 499? We’re not entirely sure.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that “[e]liminating . . . unjustified reporting and paperwork burdens” is a “high priority” of the current Administration. Perhaps, but OMB also reports that, in 2011 Americans spent an estimated 9.14 billion hours filling out Federal government forms.
According to a recent notice published in the Federal Register pursuant to the hilariously named Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), the FCC is looking to streamline the reporting burdens of Forms 499-A and 499-Q by eliminating one filing requirement (“the third-party disclosure requirement” – whatever that means… more on this below) and ditching paper filing in favor of mandatory online electronic filing for Forms 499-A and 499-Q. So, thankfully, the FCC may be embracing the Administration’s supposed priority.
Or maybe the FCC just got tired of trying to squeeze new boxes and lines onto the paper forms whenever requirements change.
In any case, other than the extremely vague PRA notice, we know nothing about the proposed changes because the FCC hasn’t released any other information about them. So filers have no way of knowing how the new requirements may be implemented or whether the changes will actually reduce reporting burdens.
Regular readers will recall that, in late 2012, the FCC asked for comment (for the first time ever) on possible revisions to the Form 499-A and its corresponding instructions; it did so again in late 2013. The Commission supposedly intended to “promote clarity, transparency and predictability.” (You can read more about that here, here, and here.) No similar solicitation has occurred this time around (other than the detail-less PRA notice) – so, apparently, the promotion of clarity, transparency and predictability does not extend to whatever changes the FCC has in mind now.
As noted, only two changes are being contemplated: the elimination of “the third-party disclosure requirement” and the elimination of paper-filing of Forms 499-A and 499-Q.
Precisely what the “third-party disclosure” requirement is is not clear since the Commission has declined to tell us. We assume that it’s related to the check-box on line 605 of the Form 499-A and line 121 of the Form 499-Q. Filers check these boxes to request confidential treatment of the revenue data being submitted. Perhaps the FCC is eliminating these check-boxes and just granting confidential treatment as a matter of course. If so, great – one less box to check!
The second change – elimination of paper-filings in favor of an all-online-filing approach – seems self-explanatory and, for the most part, a welcome (and environmentally friendly) change. Currently, Forms 499-A and 499-Q can be filed either online or the old-fashioned way, on paper (assuming you are skilled in writing legibly within tiny lines and boxes).
However, as things now stand, there are still certain situations in which paper filings are required. For example, under the current system, only the company officer who signed the previous paper filing is permitted to certify the company’s Form 499 filings online. If a company wants a different officer to certify the filing, it must first submit a paper filing with the new officer’s physical signature.
Generally speaking, the current Form 499 process, a mix of paper and electronic filings, can be a pain. So a change to a mandatory all-online-filing format should be appreciated by most.
Still, current Form 499 filers would likely be able to provide useful feedback if there were more details to provide feedback on. For the time being, with only the limited solicitation of comment through an obscure PRA notice, it doesn’t seem the FCC is really looking for much input, useful or otherwise.
But whether or not the FCC is indeed looking for any, the PRA notice does provide some opportunity for input. If you have comments, you may file them in response to the PRA notice by August 29, 2014. They can be submitted via email to PRA@fcc.gov.