A RUFRN Revisit

Posted on January 31st, 2017 by

The final days of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s stint at the FCC were busy, and one of the items that he decided to act upon was a petition for reconsideration of a requirement adopted early last year related to ownership reporting. The requirement? That all individuals included in ownership reporting – even for non-commercial station non-profit board members – were required to obtain a restricted use FCC registration number (RUFRN) so the FCC could track ownership trends. The RUFRN was a “compromise,” as it only requires name, address, date of birth and the last four digits of the social security number – less information than a standard FRN so that privacy is protected.

Several stations and organizations asked the FCC to reconsider that requirement, concerned that it would discourage individuals from serving on non-profit boards and otherwise be a hassle. Their request for relief languished for nearly a year. But in the first days of 2017, then Chairman Wheeler decided to act on it, and left the requirement in place in a tautly worded reconsideration order.

That set off the fireworks, as then Commissioner (now Chairman) Pai, together with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, fired off a tersely worded joint statement decrying the issuance of the decision (ok go back and click on that last hyperlink; this statement is worth reading). It is certainly unusual for such decisions to be issued when the White House is in transition. And it is equally unusual for sitting commissioners to explicitly encourage petitioners to file an application for review, the last avenue for agency relief before the matter would have to be challenged in court. Needless to say, Pai and O’Rielly had a much different RUFRN view when it came to noncommercial stations.

In the days after the fireworks, a bill filed in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed to eliminate the RUFRN requirement for noncommercial stations. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly issued a statement welcoming the legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

One way or another, it would appear that the RUFRN’s days are numbered, but NCE stations need to follow this issue (remember that making laws is like making sausage, and what you start with isn’t always what you end up with). If the legislation dies for some reason, the FCC under Chairman Pai will have a new opportunity to kill the requirement (incidentally, we encourage these efforts because we believe it is silly to consider non-profit board members to be “owners” of a station for analyzing ownership trends).

All stations will be filing biennial ownership reports later this year, so the RUFRN issue needs a resolution by the summer to avoid chaos as ownership reporting transitions to a new form and online system.