As we pack up our swimming trunks and beach umbrellas for the unofficial start of summer, the FCC this week issued its 2018 Regulatory Fee Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). This NPRM puts in motion the process for payment of regulatory fees which will likely be due sometime in September.

For the most part, the specific fees proposed for 2018 (with a few exceptions noted below) represent decreases from the amounts due in 2017. This is not surprising, since the total amount of fees collected in a year is supposed to match the FCC’s Congressional appropriation, which is also down in 2018. Fee reductions may be particularly noticeable for large-market television stations, which could save as much as about 15 percent from last year’s fees. On the flip side, the proposed fees would again hit direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers with an additional ten cent per subscriber increase, as the Commission continues to attempt to bring DBS fees in line with those imposed on traditional cable television/IPTV operators (who now pay 77 cents per subscriber).

In addition to the specific fees proposed for 2018, the NPRM seeks comment on a few proposed changes to how fees will be calculated for various services, including:

  1. Proposing a new methodology for television broadcast regulatory fees for FY 2019: the FCC proposes calculating regulatory fees based on the actual population covered by a station’s predicted over-the-air contour rather than using the Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMA) to define a station’s market. The FCC seeks comment on this proposal generally, and in particular on whether regulatory fees should be calculated based on the specific population covered by each station or if stations should be grouped into tiers based on population, as is currently the case for broadcast radio stations. (For those who may be interested, the FCC attaches this as an Appendix to the NPRM listing the FCC’s determination of the population served by every full-power station)
  2. Proposing, for use in 2018, new capacity tiers and fee amounts for calculating regulatory fees for submarine cable systems;
  3. Proposing applying a similar tiered system to all terrestrial and satellite international bearer circuits in future years;
  4. Retaining the optional bulk rate calculation for the number of subscribers in multiple household units used to calculate regulatory fees;

The tables below (excerpted from the NPRM) show the proposed 2018 fees for various categories of FCC licensees:

(*The gray highlighted fees in the table below are not paid on an annual basis, but are instead paid when applications are filed in these services.)

Comments on all of the proposals set out in the NPRM are due by June 21, 2018; reply comments are due by July 6, 2018. You can submit your comments at this FCC website (enter Docket Number 17-175).

Again, the NPRM – and the fees described in it – are 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 fees are generally due in late August or early/mid-September. Check back here for updates.