Fire up your computer, free up some space on your credit cards and get your FRN information ready – you’ve got until SEPTEMBER 24, 2015 to get your reg fees paid … but don’t count on paying between 6:00 p.m., September 2 and 8:00 a.m., September 8.
And we thought last year – when the FCC didn’t announce the 2014 regulatory fees until August 29 – was bad. This year the Commission has procrastinated three more days, waiting until September 2 to announce its final 2015 regulatory fees. Since the FCC apparently isn’t inclined to make life easy for anybody, we’ll do what we can: here’s a link to a convenient table setting out the new fees for broadcast-related services. [Spoiler Alert: The final fees for radio are as proposed back in May. TV fees, on the other hand, show slight (i.e., less than $400) increases across all markets.]
As it did last year, the Commission has again taken the (previously) unusual step of simultaneously announcing the deadline for reg fee payments. That would be 11:59 p.m. (ET) on September 24, 2015.
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% 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. Under the electronic regime initiated last year, 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.)
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, can lead to the dire consequences noted above. (Historically, this is the point at which we would remind readers not to forget about auxiliary license fees, since those could be easily overlooked. But this year is different because the FCC has eliminated the old $10 fee for auxiliaries. Still, it’s a good idea to be sure that you’re paying all the fees you’re supposed to.)
Fee Filer is now up and running; you can get to it at this link. 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 has opened up as of September 2, it won’t be up for long. As we reported a couple of weeks ago, the FCC has announced that it’s taking down pretty much all of its electronic filing systems – including Fee Filer – from 6:00 p.m. (ET) on September 2 until 8:00 a.m. (ET) on September 8. So if you don’t get your fees filed by 6:00 p.m. on September 2, you won’t be able to file them before September 8 at the earliest.
Note that, because the systems are being taken down to permit upgrades of the FCC’s computer systems, there’s at least a chance that glitches in the upgrade process may result in an inadvertent extension of the down time. And let’s not forget that virtually all FCC regulatees are required to pay reg fees. That means that, when Fee Filer does come back up on-line, there is likely to a massive surge of users trying to access it. Could that surge overwhelm the FCC’s sytems? Guess we’ll find out. (Check back here for updates on the status of electronic filing opportunities.) In any event, the reg fee filing period this year will be very short (a total of barely more than two weeks).
Once you’re into Fee Filer, WATCH OUT: While Fee Filer will ordinarily list fees associated with the FRN used to access the system, 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. FWIW, we understand that the “lookup” page will be up and running while the rest of the Commission’s electronic systems are down.) As a general rule, it’s the payer’s responsibility to confirm the fullest extent of the payer’s regulatory fee obligation so, again, double- and triple-checking what you owe before you make the payment is a good idea.
A final curmudgeonly observation: The reg fee process has been in place for decades. The FCC knows that every year the fees must be collected by September 30 (i.e., the end of the federal fiscal year). From 2009 to 2013, it was able to get the final fees set by mid-August each year. Why, then, has the Commission chosen to wait until the last minute this year (and last) to get its annual reg fee ducks in order? That’s especially so this year, when the usual fee filing period is being interrupted by a major computer upgrade. Presumably that upgrade has been in the works for some time, long enough for somebody at the Commission to have realized that maybe, just maybe, the reg fee process should be accelerated in light of the upgrade process (or vice versa). The FCC normally expects its regulatees to be mindful of their deadlines and to take appropriate steps to meet those deadlines. Shouldn’t regulatees be entitled to expect the same of the Commission?