The FCC has tentatively concluded that it needs to collect
unique identifiers from all entities with an attributable interest in broadcast
properties in order to collect the better data on broadcast ownership,
including by women and minorities.
The commission has been under pressure to get that better data
from minority groups critical of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal to
loosen/lift some cross-ownership rules.
Those unique identifiers the FCC says it needs to collect
are usually either employer ID numbers or social security numbers (SSNs).
The FCC is seeking comment on that tentative conclusion in a
notice of proposed rulemaking released this week on the modifications to its
323 ownership form, posting that release the same day comments are due on its
most recent 323 form, which found little change in women and minority
The FCC says that it needs to collect the IDs from
attributable interests to collect better and more reliable -- as well as searchable
-- data on women and minority ownership, in part in response to a Third Circuit
Court remand finding the FCC had not sufficiently justified diversity
initiatives in its 2007 attempt to modify its ownership rules.
Broadcasters, including those represented by the Minority
Media and Telecommunications Council, have
complained about the privacy implications of having to supply social security
The FCC initially required the unique identifiers, but
recognizing those privacy concerns, substituted a temporary, alternate ID that
did not require SSNs. It now proposes to phase out that interim ID. It says
those are not "a reliable means of tracing a reported interest holder to a
unique individual and their use therefore undermine the purpose of our data
collection effort, which seeks to accurately ascertain the nature and extent of
minority and female ownership of broadcast properties."
Republican commissioner Robert McDowell expressed some
reservations about the move, though he did not vote against it. In a statement
explaining why he only concurred in the decision rather than voting for it, he
said: "Although I am always in favor of seeking public comment and have
long advocated the Commission's need to rely on comprehensive data during the
decision-making process, I have concerns about the possible unintended consequences
of requiring all attributable interest holders to divulge sensitive
information, the burdens of collecting such information, and the potential to
deter private investment."
Comments on the proposal will be due 30 days after the
proposal is published in the Federal Register; reply comments will be due 45
days after publication.