Now that summer and beach season is over, the Commission has finally released the final listing of regulatory fees for 2017 and their due date. While it might not be as big of news as a Taylor Swift release, this is an important time for the Commission which has announced the final amounts due for each category of fees and has opened up its Fee Filer system for acceptance of payments.
Fees must be paid by exactly three weeks from today, by September 26, 2017. As is normally the case, the fees adopted by the Commission all track reasonably closely with the fees as proposed in May, with certain broadcast and satellite fees decreasing slightly and submarine cable landing license fees increasing slightly. The biggest change from years past is the raising of the so-called de minimis fee threshold – if a licensee’s total regulatory fee obligation is $1,000 of less, no payment will be due.
As has always been the case, failure to pay regulatory fees on time can have dire consequences, including: a late payment penalty of 25% of the unpaid amount assessed 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.
Consistent with recent procedure, don’t bother reaching for your checkbook when you’re ready to pay. Under the electronic filing regime, regulatory fee payments must be made electronically (i.e., by online ACH payment, online credit card, or wire transfer). That means, no checks, money orders, bags of pennies, monopoly money, or anything else physical.
The maximum payment that can be charged to a single credit card on a single day remains at $24,999.99, which applies to both single and bundled payments. If you owe more than $24,999.99 for a single license, you will not be permitted to split up the payment into multiple payment transactions, nor will you be permitted to pay over several days by using one or more credit cards. The FCC recommends that anyone expecting a fee obligation of $25,000 or more consider using debit cards, ACH debits from a bank account, or wire transfers.
If you aren’t familiar with the FCC’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.)
You can log into the fee filer system here using your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password or your CORES username 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, just a 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 regulatory 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. In one continuing bit of good news for broadcast filers, there are once again no fees due for broadcast auxiliary licenses.
A final curmudgeonly observation, which we repeat largely verbatim from last year (and the year before): The regulatory 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 each of the last few years to get its annual regulatory 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? At least when it comes to regulatory fees, it increasingly appears to not be the case.