Remember last Spring, when the FCC issued its proposed 2010 reg fees and they had all gone down from the previous year, so we got all excited, and then when the final 2010 fees were announced, they had gone back up again and we were disappointed? Good news! This year, the FCC is sparing us that emotional whipsaw. It has just released its proposed 2011 regulatory fees, and with only few exceptions, they reflect increases – in some cases, significant increases – over last year’s numbers. This way, we won’t be surprised and disappointed in a couple of months when the final fees are announced.

While pretty much everybody’s fees are proposed to go up, the folks who would get hit hardest are full service UHF TV in Markets 11-25 and Market 26-50. Their fees would increase by 9.5% and 10.8%, respectively. We have prepared a table reflecting the proposed 2011 reg fees here. The numbers in parentheses reflect the amount of the proposed changes from last year’s fees – as a visual aid, we have indicated proposed fee increases in red, and proposed reductions in cool green.

As always, the Commission is giving everybody a chance to comment on this year’s proposed fees, but you’ll have to act fast. The deadline for comments on the proposed fees is May 24, 2011; reply comments may be filed through June 1.

This year’s notice includes a couple of noteworthy points.

First, in recognition of the fact that the digital TV transition continues on for LPTV, TV Translator and Class A licensees, the Commission observes that

a fee will be assessed for each facility operating either in an analog or digital mode. In instances in which a licensee is operating in both an analog and digital mode as a simulcast, a single regulatory fee will be assessed for this analog facility that has a digital companion channel.

The Commission may revisit its instructions on this point “[a]s greater numbers of facilities convert to digital mode”.

Second, this year the FCC will not be sending out “pre-bill” reminders to broadcasters advising them of the fees they’re being assessed. All that information should be available on the FCC’s website, though.

Third, on the AM/FM side, the Commission notes that a station’s fee is based in part on the population it serves. Populations tend to change every ten years when the Census is completed and released, and such changes could affect radio licensees’ reg fees. But not this year. Even though the latest Census was technically completed last year, its results are still unofficial and subject to change – which means that this year’s regulatory fees will be based on the 2000 Census, not the 2010. (Additional rationale: since 2011 reg fees are calculated based on the subject station’s status as of October 1, 2010, the FCC thinks it would be “inappropriate” to rely on incomplete 2010 population figures.)

The proposed fees are just that – proposals. We won’t know the final fees until sometime this summer, although historically the final fees tend not to stray too far from the initial proposals. We also do not yet know when the fees will be due, although that tends to be in August or September. Look for an announcement sometime mid-Summer.