FCC Proposes Regulatory Fees

Once again the FCC is proposing new regulatory fees for October 1st.  Unlike most federal agencies, the FCC is financed by the entities it oversees through “regulatory fees.”  As the FCC noted:

The Commission is required by Congress to assess regulatory fees each year in an amount that can reasonably be expected to equal the amount of its appropriation.   Regulatory fees recover direct costs, such as salary and expenses; indirect costs, such as overhead functions; and support costs, such as rent, utilities, and equipment.   Regulatory fees also cover the costs incurred in regulating entities that are statutorily exempt from paying regulatory fees (e.g., governmental and nonprofit entities, amateur radio operators, and noncommercial radio and television stations) and entities whose regulatory fees are waived.   For the FY 2021 appropriation, the Commission must recover $374,000,000, as set forth in the 2021 Appropriations Act.

With the industry just emerging from the COVID crisis, one would hope the FCC will reduce its proposed fees.  It has not.  It is important to note that the FCC does not have the power to waive its fees in the entirety.  The authority to eliminate the fees rests with Congress.  Until Congress finds another way to fund the FCC, the fee regime will continue.

This is not to say the FCC’s fee process is correct.  As we noted in our filings last year, there are a number of entities, such as unlicensed wireless services, that benefit from the FCC’s policies, but pay no fee.

Television Fees:  Last year the FCC changed its assessment of television fees and based the fee on the population served by each station:

“Last year the Commission completed the transition to a population-based full-power broadcast television regulatory fee.  We seek comment again on the use of population-based fees for full-power broadcast television stations based on the station’s contour.”

The FCC’s proposal lists the specific fee for each TV station.  The fees for each station can be found on Appendix F of the FCC’s proposal. To see the FCC’s list of proposed fees for each individual station (alphabetical by station call letters) click HERE.

Interestingly, the FCC is also proposing to change this approach and adopt a tiered system for television fees similar to that used for radio.  In other words, rather than assessing a fee based on the reach of each individual station, it would create a tiered/banded system.  To see the proposed fees based on tiered bands. click HERE.

Radio: Despite the pandemic, there is no blanket exception for radio.  Nonetheless, radio stations are eligible to file hardship waivers.  Some of the station categories in 2021 will see a slight increase in fees over the 2020 amounts.  To see the 2021 regulatory fees for stations click HERE.

There is one wrinkle worth noting.  The FCC always exempted stations whose fees were $1000 dollars or less. Some stations, especially CLASS “A” AM stations have historically been assessed a fee under $1000, and therefore were exempt.  With the new fee schedule, some stations that were exempt in past years could find they are no longer exempt and must pay a fee.

NYSBA opposes any increase in fees for this year, especially for radio.  There are a number of non-broadcast services, such as unlicensed devices, that enjoy the benefits of the FCC’s policies without paying their fair share.  Moreover, most of the FCC’s expenses this year will be implementing legislation expanding broadband opportunities. The time devoted to broadband expansion should be taken into account, thereby reducing fees for local radio and TV stations.  NYSBA is working with NAB and the other state broadcasters on this issue.

To see the FCC’s complete regulatory fee proposal click HERE.


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