Channel 13 leaves VHF ranks, migrates to UHF, according to some FCC reg fee materials

Here’s another CommLawBlog Reg Fee Tip: if you received one of the FCC’s snail mail reg fee notices, be sure to take it with a grain of salt. It has come to our attention that the fees indicated in those notices may be wrong. 

Not wrong as in incomplete because, say, they didn’t include fees for auxiliary licenses and the like. We knew about that problem (and have mentioned it here before).

No, we’re talking wrong as in, um, wrong. In particular, a number of TV licensees operating on Channel 13(maybe even all Channel 13 stations – we haven’t checked with everybody) have received notices advising them that they owe a reg fee calculated on the basis of the fact that they are operating on a UHF channel. (For any Doubting Thomases, here’s an example, from which we have redacted the identity of the specific station/licensee. We have more where this came from.)  

Hmmmm. Last time we looked, Channel 13 – i.e., the space on the RF spectrum encompassing 210-216 MHz – was in the VHF band, at least as that band is defined by, e.g., the International Telecommunication Union. And the FCC has historically taken the same position (probably because it’s got to, physics being what they are and also being as how the U.S. has been a member of the ITU for more than 100 years now). So unless there’s been some phenomenal warp in the spacetime continuum – like, maybe, a wormhole or something – that might have resulted in Channel 13 growing little RF legs and scurrying over to the UHF band, it’s safe to assume that 13 is still a V and any FCC notice suggesting the contrary is incorrect.

What’s worse, the problem may not be simply in the snail mail notice, but also in Fee Filer. We understand (but have not ourselves personally observed) that the fee automatically calculated by Fee Filer for Channel 13 is also based on UHF, rather than VHF, rates. Contrarily, though, the fee shown on the FCC’s “Fee Lookup” site shows the correct, i.e., VHF-based, number.

Since the reg fee for a VHF TV station in a given market is considerably higher than for a UHF station in the same market, it might be tempting to try to rely on the notice and Fee Filer numbers in calculating the fee to be paid. After all, if the FCC itself says Channel 13 is UHF, who are we to say them nay?

That would probably be a bad idea. As noted, the mistake in the notice and Fee Filer does not appear in the Fee Lookup, which seems to calculate fees based on the more conventional notion that Channel 13 is still in the good old VHF band. And the Commission has admonished that “regardless of the data populated in Fee Filer, the filer is still responsible for reporting and paying for all regulatory fees owed, irrespective of whether all of these fees are identified using this feature.” In other words, while the FCC may be happy to overlook its own mistakes, when it comes to your mistakes, not so much. 

So pardon us if we go all Jiminy Cricket here, but folks confronted with this particular conundrum (or anything similar to it) might want to let their conscience (combined, of course, with a healthy concern about the dreaded Red Light Rules) be their guide and simply ignore the erroneous indications.

The real moral of this story, though, is that even the FCC can make mistakes. Because of that, it is always wise to read materials from the Commission carefully and be prepared to raise questions when something seems amiss.