Fire up your computer, free up some space on your credit cards and get your FRN information ready – you’ve got until SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 to get your reg fees paid … and they must be paid electronically.
Apparently intent on re-defining the terms “last minute” and “eleventh hour”, the Commission opted to wait until late on the afternoon of August 29 before it announced the final 2014 regulatory fees. For those of you anxious to cut to the chase, here’s a link to a convenient table setting out the new fees for broadcast-related services. (The table also provides, for TV-related services, comparisons of the 2014 fees against last year’s fees.)
Presumably because its adoption of the 2014 fees has come so late in the government’s fiscal year, the Commission has also taken the unusual step of simultaneously announcing the deadline for reg fee payments. That would be 11:59 p.m. (ET) on September 23, 2014.
The 2014 fees are, dollar-wise, identical to last year’s for radio licensees and considerably lower (i.e., 24% – 48%, depending on market) for VHF TV folks. UHF licensees, on the other hand, will notice a considerable uptick (14% – 29%, again depending on market). Thanks to the DTV transition, the Commission has decided that, unlike in past years, it’s not right to assess different reg fees to UHF and VHF stations in same-sized markets. Accordingly, where different fees were previously assessed separately for VHF and UHF stations, this year all full-service TV licensees are classified merely as “Digital TV”, which leads to the reduction for VHF licensees and corresponding increase for UHF. The tiering of fees based on market size remains the same.
As has always been the case, failure to pay reg fees on time can have dire consequences. Those include: a late payment penalty of 25 percent of the unpaid amount, starting immediately after the deadline; additional processing charges for collection of late fees; and administrative penalties, such as withholding of action on any applications from delinquent parties, eventual dismissal of such applications, and even possible revocation proceedings. And remember, the FCC will not be sending you a hard-copy reminder of your reg fee bill.
When you’re ready to pay, don’t bother reaching for your checkbook. Unlike past years, reg fee payments must now be made electronically, i.e., by online ACH payment, online credit card, or wire transfer. No checks, money orders, green stamps, or anything else on paper. If you aren’t familiar with the Commission’s online Fee Filer system, we recommend that you not wait until the last minute to try to figure it out. It’s not especially user-friendly or intuitively obvious. (Of course, if you don’t feel like doing it yourself, you can always ask your communications counsel to help out.)
Fee Filer is now up and running; you can get to it at this link. That’s the first stop you’ll have to make in paying your fees. Once you log into the system (using your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password), you’ll have to generate a Form 159-E, which you’ll need to tender as part of the payment process. (If you’re paying by wire transfer, you’ll have to fax in your 159-E.)
While Fee Filer will ordinarily list fees associated with the FRN used to access the system, WATCH OUT: the list of fees shown in Fee Filer may not be complete. (The same is true for the broadcast reg fee “lookup” page provided by the Commission.) As a general rule, it’s the payer’s responsibility to confirm the fullest extent of the payer’s regulatory fee obligation.
Double- and triple-checking other FCC databases, as well as your own records, is prudent, since failure to file any required reg fee, even if inadvertent and even if only for a very small amount – like, say, a $10 auxiliary license fee – can lead to the dire consequences noted above. We mention auxiliary license fees in particular because, historically, the FCC’s fee calculator has NOT included fees for any auxiliary licenses that may be associated with the main license. (We’ve told you about this in the past.) Since separate fees are due for those auxiliaries over and above the main license reg fee, it’s very important to be sure that your payment includes the necessary fees for all applicable authorizations.
Along with the 2014 reg fee schedule, the Commission tweaked its rules in a number of relatively minor ways. Those tweaks (which we plan to review and, if warranted, report on) do not affect this year’s fees.