The FCC last week announced an extension of the deadline for initial comments in its proceeding to examine the regulatory fees that are paid by VHF television stations. We wrote here about this Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which asked questions including whether VHF television stations and stations in the FCC’s incubator program

The FCC on Tuesday released its Report and Order on regulatory fees.  The Order says that the fees will be due by September 24.  The FCC should soon issue additional guidance about the exact filing dates and procedures.

In the Order, the FCC did reduce the fees for radio somewhat from those proposed in their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in May.  However, it was not the decrease sought by many broadcast groups.  The radio fees, even though reduced, still result in an increase from last year’s fees.  The FCC attributed that increase both to a somewhat smaller number of stations and an increase in the operating costs of the FCC that had to be shared among all regulated entities.
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With the summer winding down, you can expect that come September, like everywhere else, Washington will leap back to life and the government will try to accomplish what they can before the end of the year. That will no doubt mean some regulatory actions (and potentially court actions and legislative actions) affecting broadcasters this Fall, though what they are remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is plenty to keep broadcasters busy. While September is one of those months in which there are few of the normally recurring filing deadlines (no EEO reports, renewal filings or quarterly reports need to be submitted during the month), there is one big deadline that no commercial broadcaster should forget – the filing of annual regulatory fees.

We understand that there is an order circulating at the FCC right now to set the final amount of the regulatory fees for the year. As these fees must be paid before October 1 when the government’s new fiscal year begins, we can expect that order shortly, with fees due at some point in September. As the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposed significant unexplained increases in the fees paid by radio, and a change to the methodology used to compete TV fees, moving from a DMA-based fee to one calculated based on an individual station’s predicted coverage (which had the effect of raising some fees, especially for high-powered VHF stations, while lowering others), a number of broadcasters and the NAB complained about those proposals. Watch for the FCC’s decision in the coming days to see how it addresses these complaints about the proposed fees, and to see when the fees will be due.
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Once upon a time, August was a quiet month in Washington, when everyone went on vacation. Sure, there are plenty of vacations that will happen this coming month, but it seems that regulatory activity no longer takes a break. For example, August 1 is the due date for the filing with the FCC of license renewals for all radio stations (including translators and LPFM stations) in North and South Carolina, and the filing of associated EEO forms for all full power radio stations in those states. With the renewal filing comes the obligation that these stations start airing, on August 1 and August 16, their post-filing announcements informing the public about the submission of the license renewal applications. Radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, who filed their renewals on or before June 2, also need to keep running their post-filing announcements on these same dates. Radio stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who are in the next license renewal group with their renewal applications to be filed by October 1, need to start broadcasting their pre-filing announcements this month, also to run on the 1st and 16th of the month. See our post here on pre-filing announcements.

Commercial and noncommercial full power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM radio stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin that are part of an employment unit with five or more full-time employees must place their annual EEO public inspection file reports in their online public file. Links to those reports should also be placed on the home pages of these station’s websites, if they have a website. The effectiveness of these EEO public file reports, and the EEO programs of which they are a part, are being reviewed by the FCC in a proceeding started by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about which we wrote here. Comments on this notice asking for suggestions about how to make the EEO rules more effective are due August 21, with reply comments due by September 5.
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Just when you thought that it might be safe to stop watching your email and prepare to enjoy the long weekend, the FCC comes along and reminds you that there is work ahead in September. As we warned in our summary of the regulatory dates for broadcasters in September, the FCC announced the deadline for filing annual regulatory fees – they will be due by 11:59 pm ET on September 25, 2018.  A copy of the FCC order announcing the amounts of the new fees is available here.  The filing date is available on the FCC’s website.  Fee information is provided in Appendix C of the decision, which begins on Page 18 of order.  In the past, the Media Bureau has followed up with a Public Notice and Filing Guide specifically addressing fees to be paid by broadcasters.  Expect to see that in the next few days.

The Order also announces in Paragraph 14 of the decision that the method calculating TV regulatory fees will be changing beginning next year. It will be moving to a system for setting fees more like that used in radio by assessing fees for full-power broadcast TV stations based on the population covered by the station’s contour, instead of by the station’s DMA.  Beginning in 2019, the FCC plans to adopt a fee based on an average of the current DMA methodology and the population covered by a full-power broadcast TV station’s contour.  Thereafter, in 2020, the FCC will assess regulatory fees for full-power broadcast TV stations based solely on the population covered by the station’s contour. But for this year, the FCC detailed the procedures for payment that are much the same as last year.
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The FCC today released a series of public notices setting September 27 as the deadline for the filing of Annual Regulatory fees.  We wrote here about the FCC Order setting the amount of those fees, and reminding TV stations, even ones looking to surrender their licenses in the incentive auction, that they must still pay those fees by the upcoming deadline.  These notices also announced that the fee filing system is now up and operating, so fees can be paid at any time.  Finally, the notices talk about some of the details of the fee filing process, covering who is eligible and how exemptions from fee obligations can be obtained.

One of the Public Notices sets out instructions for requests for waivers and deferrals of the fee obligations.  Any party thinking about filing such a request needs to carefully follow the instructions and fully document the reasons for the waiver, as the failure to fully follow the rules will result in penalties and interest.  In fact, to avoid the potential for penalties and interest, the FCC suggests paying the fee and asking for a refund, rather than asking for a deferral and waiver of the fee obligations. 
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The FCC has finalized its regulatory fees for this year, though they have not announced the actual filing date, other than to say that the fees will be paid during a window to be announced sometime in September. In the Order announcing the new fees, in addition to setting the fees (which represent an increase for broadcasters of approximately 3.5% over past years), the FCC addressed several issues that it had raised in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the fees, about which we wrote here.  The issues for broadcasters were few, and some of the most significant changes will not take place until the future.

One of the simple issues that was addressed was the difference between the fees for UHF and VHF television stations. Regulatory fees have always reflected the analog preference of VHF stations over UHF, as those stations had larger coverage and were, generally, more profitable. In the digital world, it is exactly the reverse, as UHF stations are far better at transmitting a digital signal.  Yet the fees still reflect the old reality – and VHF stations, as set forth below, pay twice as much as UHF stations. The FCC finally recognized that this was not right, and has decided to set regulatory fees at the same level for both VHF and UHF stations. But, because of certain procedural requirements, the new fees will not take effect until next year. So, this year, VHF stations will again continue to pay a disproportionately high fee.

The Commission also promised to review other fees in the future. Part of the way that fees are set is based on the percentage of the FCC’s resources that are devoted to the regulatory activities associated with a particular communications industry service, as reflected by the employees in the FCC Bureau most directly in charge of regulating the service . One of the reasons for the increase in the fees for broadcasters is because the FCC decided that the fees previously associated with the International Bureau, whose services working on International treaties and clearances, benefit all different kinds of communications entities regulated by other FCC Bureaus, should be largely reallocated to those other Bureaus for purposes of counting the fees paid by the communications services regulated by those other Bureaus.  At least part of the International Bureau fees were allocated to the Media Bureau which regulates broadcasters. In fact, this reallocation will increase fees to an even greater extent over time, but the FCC capped the rate of increase for fees for this year, to avoid “sticker shock” to the various services whose fees will increase.


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While I was away for the last few weeks, there have been a number of actions important to broadcasters and other media companies that we’ll be covering in the next few days. For broadcasters, one annual notice that recently was released by the FCC is the proposal for this year’s annual regulatory fees which will be payable in August or September to reimburse the government for the cost of the FCC’s regulation of the industry.  Each year, prior to implementing the new fees, the FCC asks for comments on the fees to be paid by licensees – teeing up specific issues where procedures or allocations of fees for public comment before such changes are implemented. This year is no exception.  What is slightly different is that, instead of simply making its proposal for the fees to be paid by broadcasters, the FCC has instead proposed two different sets of rates, based on different ways of computing the costs of the regulation of broadcasters. 

Regulatory fees are based on the FCC’s costs of regulating its licensees and other companies subject to FCC jurisdiction. The allocation is based on the number of FCC employees who work on matters relating to that particular class of service. In the past, the FCC has had five categories of licensees – including one for broadcasters who are regulated by the Media Bureau. The FCC has proposed to reduce that number to four, reasoning that the work done by the International Bureau ("IB") benefits many different types of regulated entities, not just those satellite licensees directly regulated by that Bureau (e.g. the IB is responsible for actions including treaty negotiations and cross-border issues involving all kinds of licensees, including broadcasters). By eliminating the separate allocation for the IB, and reallocating their employees to other bureaus for fee purposes, the FCC suggests that a fairer allocation of fees will result.  Whether or not the FCC makes the proposed reallocation will most likely result in one of the possible fee schedules set forth below. 


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