On the Friday before Labor Day weekend, the Commission released the final listing of regulatory fees for 2016. Those fees will have to be paid sometime before September 30, but as of September 4, the Commission had neither announced the deadline nor opened up its Fee Filer system for acceptance of reg fees. Maybe the Commission just didn’t want its regulatees to spoil their last holiday of the summer worrying about such things.
We’ll be posting word about the deadline here as soon as it’s available. Be sure to check back. In the meantime, here are the listings of the TV and radio fees that will be payable, once the FCC opens Fee Filer. (FWIW, the fees adopted by the Commission all track reasonably closely with the fees as proposed last May.)
As has always been the case, failure to pay reg fees on time can have dire consequences. Those have historically included: 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 this year the Commission has thrown one more consideration into the mix, a consideration aimed directly at broadcast television participants in the Spectrum Auction: “Licensees must pay the required regulatory fees to avoid any delay of payments resulting from the Incentive Auction.” So if you’re expecting a big pay day from the auction, it will be worth your while to double-check, maybe even triple-check, your reg fee calculations.
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 a couple of years ago, reg fee payments must 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.)
Once Fee Filer for 2016 reg fees is up and running – you should be able to get to it at this link once it’s functioning – you’ll log into the system using your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password, generate a Form 159-E (which you’ll need to tender as part of the payment process), and then get on with the payment process. (If you’re paying by wire transfer, you’ll have to fax in your 159-E.)
When it comes around to figuring out exactly what you owe, heads up: 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 the Commission usually provides.) As a general rule, it’s the payer’s responsibility to confirm the fullest extent of the payer’s regulatory fee obligation so double- and triple-checking other FCC databases, as well as your own records, is prudent. (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 last year the FCC eliminated the old $10 fee for auxiliaries, which takes some of the pressure off. Still, it’s a good idea to be sure that you’re paying all the fees you’re supposed to.)
One more tip – if your total reg fee obligation comes to $500 or less, you’re off the hook. You don’t have to pay anything at all.
A final curmudgeonly observation, which we repeat largely verbatim from last year: 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, and the year before last) to get its annual reg fee ducks in order? 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?