SBAs file FCC comments disputing regulatory fee schedule

The Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, in combination with the state broadcasters associations of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, filed Joint Comments urging the FCC to modernize its methodology for setting annual regulatory fees to comply with the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018.

The Associations noted that while Congress increased the FCC’s budget for 2022 by $7.95M, the FCC has inexplicably proposed placing the burden of almost the entire amount of that increase solely on the shoulders of broadcasters.  As a result, despite the FCC’s budget increasing only 2.13% over 2021, the FCC has proposed a 13% increase in the total regulatory fees to be paid by broadcasters for FY2022.  The FCC failed to provide any explanation for this proposed increase, though it appears to result from burdening broadcasters with a portion of the FCC’s costs in 2022 of implementing the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technology Availability Act (“Broadband Data Act”).

In 2021, in response to comments filed by the State Broadcasters Associations and NAB, the FCC acknowledged that the Broadband Data Act is not connected to, and delivers no benefits to, broadcasters, and therefore did not place the burden of Broadband Data Act costs on broadcasters for FY2021.  In proposing FY2022 regulatory fees, it appears that the FCC has reversed course, and is proposing to place those “unrelated” costs on the shoulders of broadcasters.  The State Broadcasters Associations urged the FCC to once again exclude broadcasters from covering costs associated with the Broadband Data Act or other FCC activities that bear no relation to broadcasting, such as Universal Service Fund activities.

The Associations also urged the FCC to revise its methodology for setting regulatory fees in 2022 and beyond to adopt a more precise approach in assigning the costs for personnel the FCC currently classifies as “overhead” so that broadcasters do not find themselves continuing to pay a disproportionate share of the costs for FCC activities which deliver no benefit to broadcasters.  Finally, the Joint Comments argued that the FCC should conduct an expansive review of its costs of collecting regulatory fees, permitting it to appropriately increase the “de minimis threshold” below which stations are exempt from paying regulatory fees where the costs of collection exceed the amount to be collected from a regulatee.