If it’s May, it must be time for proposed regulatory fees – and sure enough, here they are! In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC has got the ball rolling down the road that, for many regulatees, will lead us to a payment deadline sometime in September (or maybe August, but don’t count on it) by which they’ll have to cough up their annual tribute to the FCC.
While the final figures (usually announced in July or early August) may vary here and there from the proposed fees, generally any changes can be expected to be minor. Still, the NPRM gives one and all an opportunity to comment on the proposals before they get etched in stone (although many may question the utility of trying to sway the Commission on the fee front).
For TV folks, the proposed fees reflect a certain amount of jiggering designed to conform to “the traditional determination that Top 10 stations should pay about twice what stations in markets 26-50 pay.” As a result, fees for VHF and UHF TV licensees in the Top 10 markets are proposed to shoot up by nearly 30% (from $46,825 to $60,775). Market 11-25 licensees are looking at a more modest 6% rate (from $43,000 to $45,750), while those in Markets 26-50 are set to come in at just less than 11% more than last year (from $27,625 to $30,575). Stations in markets below No. 100 will also be looking at a modest 3% increase (from $4,850 to $5,000).
The winners on the TV side will be stations in Markets 51-100, who are set to see a more than 6% reduction, from $16.275 to $15,225.
The full table of proposed TV fees looks like this:
Changes are also on the table for radio folks. The most obvious change is the creation of another population row in the fee grid. Historically, the Commission has calculated radio reg fees based on two factors: (a) the class/service of the station; and (b) the size of the population served. The largest classification in the population category covered stations serving populations greater than 3,000,000. No longer. The FCC figures that that broad classification should more appropriately be whacked into two separate categories. So the plan is to include a classification in the grid for stations serving 3,000,001-6,000,000 folks, and a new classification for those serving more than 6,000,000.
Over and above that obvious change, the Commission also proposes to “standardize the incremental increase in fees as the population served increases” and also to “more consistently assess fees based on the type and class of service”. The news here is, for the most part, good. Nearly all categories of radio licensees will see a modest decrease in their 2016 reg fees; and the small handful that that don’t go down are proposed to go up only slightly. Here’s the FCC’s proposed grid of radio fees:
The concept of “de minimis” adopted last year is still in effect. So, yet again, the traditional $10 fee for auxiliary licenses is gone. Additionally, folks whose reg fees for 2016 total out at $500 or less are exempt from any reg fee liability. (This exemption applies only to filers of annual regulatory fees – not regulatory fees paid through multi-year filings – and it is not a permanent exemption. That means that, just because you may have been exempt last year does not mean that you will automatically be exempt this year.)
When it comes to paying, remember that, since 2014, the Commission has insisted an all-electronic payment requirement: no cash or checks accepted. That’s still true this year, but heads up. Thanks to our pals at the U.S. Treasury, the maximum payment that can be charged to a credit card will again be $24,999.99. (This edict came out in 2014, effective last June.) The old limit was $49,999.99. The new limit applies to single and bundled payments. If you owe more than $24,999.99, you will not be permitted to split it up into multiple payment transactions, nor will you be permitted to pay it over several days by using one or more cards. The FCC recommends that anyone looking at a fee obligation of $25,000 or more consider debit cards, Automated Clearing House (ACH) debits from a bank account, or wire transfers.
If you think you might want to chip in your two cents’ worth on the proposed fees or related matters covered in the NPRM, heads up – you don’t have much time to work with. Comments on all of the proposals set out in the NPRM are due by June 20, 2016; reply comments are due by July 5. You can submit your comments at this FCC website; enter Proceeding Number 16-166.
Again, the NPRM – and the fees described in it – are still only proposals. We won’t know the final fees until sometime this summer, and we won’t know the deadline for paying the fees until sometime later – although the fees are generally due in late August or early/mid-September. Check back here for updates.