The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing the first major overhaul of FCC application fees in 30 years. Licensees (and hopeful licensees) should take heed: while certain fees are proposed to be lowered, many are proposed to increase, some by a substantial amount. Of particular interest are numerous new fees proposed for certain applications that, until now, have had no associated filing fees.

For example, wireless providers might feel some heartburn digesting the FCC’s proposal to begin charging application fees of “geographic-based services that do not have fees [such as] the Advanced Wireless Service, Broadband Personal Communications Service, and the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 3.7-4.2 GHz Services…” The fee for Common Carrier tariff filings is slated to be lowered from $960 to $930, but the FCC also proposes new, more substantial fees for “complex” tariff filings — as much as $6,540 for price cap local exchange carriers (LECs) and entities involving more than 100 LECs (“Complex Large” tariff filings), and $3,270 for other entities (“Complex Small” tariff filings).  If the FCC gets its way, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) providers will have to start paying a fee for numbering authorization.

On the broadcast media side, filing fees for Class A television stations are proposed to be moved from the Low Power TV (LPTV) category to the full power TV category, raising fees for minor facilities changes from zero to $1,335, and license assignments would increase from $160 to $1,245. New fees would be imposed on pre-auction short-form radio and TV applications and on applications for declaratory rulings to permit foreign media ownership, and FM translator minor change application fees would increase from zero to $210.

Satellite operators might be the only group that sees a substantial gain from the proposed fee changes: whereas they currently pay $136,930 to apply to launch a communication satellite, the FCC proposes to reduce the fee to $3,555.

The proposed new fees all have their genesis in the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018, which directs the Commission to, among other things, evaluate fees and propose changes to better reflect actual costs associated with the processing of applications by the Commission. The FCC explains what it thinks its costs are, but with no explanation or analysis of how it came up with the numbers. As seen in ongoing disputes between the National Association of Broadcasters and the FCC over annual regulatory fees, there are real questions about the Commission’s methodologies when it comes to cost calculations. And it begs the question: were the staff costs used to come up with regulatory fees the same ones used here? In other words, is the FCC proposing to charge licensees fees twice for the same staff hours?

We encourage FCC license holders to review the proposed fee changes and consider commenting if they feel the changes are not justified. The deadline for comments has not yet been announced but likely will be within the next 60 days.