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FCC proposes rules to let non-comm broadcasters fundraise for charities on-air

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So, last night I wondered if the deletion of the non-commercial station fundraising item from the FCC’s open meeting agenda meant that they were going to release a proposal ahead of time. Today, the Commission answered that question by releasing a proposal to give non-commercial and educational (NCE) stations a limited ability to raise money on-air for charities and other non-profits [press release PDF]. The FCC proposes to let stations use up to 1% of their air time to conduct these fundraising activities, which adds up to about 88 hours a year out of a full-time 24/7 schedule.

The big question I’ve had about this rulemaking is whether or not it would affect NCE stations that are being leased and operated by a third-party. This is the case with the University of San Francisco’s KUSF which is currently operated by the Classical Public Radio Network, ahead of an anticipated sale of the station to CPRN. Currently CPRN does not fundraise on KUSF’s airwaves in order to avoid running afoul of the FCC.

The Commission doesn’t take up this specific issue in its proposal, but it does ask for comment on several questions that are pertinent. The Commission asks if there should be limits on what kind of third-party organization may be the beneficiary of on-air fundraising. Should they be limited only to IRS recognized 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charities, and should they be further limited to being local or somehow affiliated to the station?

Also at question is who should be responsible for the programming and administration of the fundraising. To that end, the Commission asks if the station licensee should be required to produce the fundraising programming, rather than allowing the third-party to supply their own. This, in particular, could be a sticky question for station being operated by another party, since for the FCC’s purposes that party is not the licensee. Therefore, if the Commission decided to require the licensee to produce all fundraising programming, then the CPRN would have to ask the University of San Francisco to take responsibility for producing any fundraising messages that air on KUSF for the duration that CPRN operates the station under agreement with USF.

Addtionally, the FCC asks if it should require the NCE station to administer all of the fundraising activities, such as collecting, accounting and distributing the funds to the third-party charity. Again, that seems like the kind of burden that USF or any station owner leasing its station to a third party would not want to shoulder. One of the main reasons to enter into such a leasing agreement is to be free of such day-to-day administration while reaping some financial renumeration.

The FCC is also seeking comment on whether or not stations should have to file something with the Commission prior to starting any third-party fundraising, and whether or not stations should be required to file a report on these activities. Finally, the Commission asks if non-commercial stations should be required to certify compliance with third-party fundraising rules on their license renewal applications.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “allowing noncommercial stations to partner with charities, churches and other religious organizations, schools, and other non-profits to raise money for worthy causes will enable these stations to help meet the needs of their local communities.”

There is a 30 day window for filing the first round of comments on this proposal. The clock starts when the proposal is first published in the Federal Register.

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