Despite the fact that your tax exempt – and, therefore, reg fee exempt – status may have previously been demonstrated to and accepted by the FCC, the Commission’s records may still not reflect that.

As previously (and repeatedly) noted here on CommLawBlog, it’s time again to reach into your wallets and pony up this year’s annual regulatory fees.  (The fees are due by 11:59 p.m. ET on September 13.)  A lucky few are exempt from having to make this annual contribution – specifically licensee entities that are tax-exempt under federal or state law.  To be FCC reg fee free, you’ve got to send the FCC documentation proving that you’re tax exempt. 

Since tax exemption tends to be a perpetual status, you might think that, once you have submitted your documentation, you’d be reg fee free forever (unless, of course, the FCC were to be notified at some later point that you had lost your exempt status).

Not so fast.

It seems that even where licensees have dutifully submitted proof of tax exempt status in previous years, the FCC has occasionally had difficulty keeping track of those exempt non-profits.  For years in some cases, many non-profits have received from the FCC an annual regulatory fee bill even though (a) they have notified the FCC (sometimes repeatedly) of their tax exempt status and (b) the FCC has acknowledged and confirmed that status.  In those cases, these non-profits have been forced to devote time and money to an annual ritual of resubmitting to the FCC proof of their non-profit status. 

I have non-profit clients who have had to perform this ritual four or five years in a row.  It’s as if there is no long term memory at the FCC’s fee collection apparatus.  If it were just a few isolated instances, that’d be one thing – but this appears to have been a chronic, if inconsistent, problem that has been with us possibly since the FCC first started collecting regulatory fees. It doesn’t happen to all exempt licensees, but it does happen, in many cases repeatedly, to some. Why the FCC seems unable to keep track of this type of information for all affected licensees from one year to the next is a frustrating and costly mystery.

So the lesson is, even if you are a tax exempt entity, and even if you notified the FCC of your exempt status at some point in the past, and even if the FCC has acknowledged any and all of your previous submissions, do NOT assume that the Commission knows or remembers that you are exempt from this year’s FCC regulatory fees.  Be sure to check on your status and don’t be surprised if it feels like déjà vu all over again.