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FCC Loosens Reporting Requirements for Noncommercial Stations

The FCC has voted to give noncommercial stations more flexibility in reporting ownership information to the FCC for diversity purposes. 

The vote reverses a decision under the previous FCC chairman that required officers and board members for noncom entities to provide personal information, which noncoms had argued could discourage people from volunteering for those important posts.

The Media Bureau had set aside the noncom reporting requirement early in chairman Ajit Pai's tenure with the signal it would be reconsidered.

The requirement has now been eliminated.

A phalanx of noncommercial broadcasting entities had asked the FCC to reconsider and reverse the January 2016 order, which was billed as improving the data collected from broadcasters to help the commission analyze ownership and diversity issues. In fact, Pai had encouraged them to do so. 

Then commissioner Ajit Pai dissented from the January 2016 noncommercial registration number portion of the order, and commissioner Michael O'Rielly concurred, which is short of support but not outright opposition. "I cannot support the Commission’s imposition of a requirement that the officers and directors of noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters provide us with personal information, including the last four digits of an SSN, to obtain unique identifiers," said Pai at the time.

Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who was busy at the public meeting Thursday delivering strong dissents on several items, said the American people deserved access to the information on the noncom officials and dissented. 

O'Rielly said he would go beyond the particular requirement at issue to question whether the FCC should be collecting noncommercial station ownership information at all. As to the requirement at issue, he said he was pleased to support it.

Pai said noncom volunteers who care for and want to serve their communities should not be deterred by unnecessary regulatory burdens like giving up personal info. He said the FCC was correcting that before it takes effect.

He also pointed out that not one person objected to the petition for reconsideration the FCC was acting on by removing the mandatory reporting requirement. Pai said the FCC should be the ally of noncom volunteers, not their adversary.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.