FCC Seeks Comments on Proposed FY 2021 Regulatory Fees

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on its proposed regulatory fees for Fiscal Year 2021. Comments are due June 3, 2021, and reply comments are due June 18, 2021.

The FCC is proposing to collect $374 million in fees, an increase of approximately ten percent from last year’s $339 million budget. The FCC is asking for comments on, among other things, (i) including non-geographic numbers in the calculation of the number of subscribers for each commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) provider; (ii) ending the phase in of direct broadcast satellite (DBS) fees, and instead including the Media Bureau-based DBS regulatory fee in the same fee category as cable television and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV); (iii) assessing 2022 fees for full service broadcast television stations using the same population-based, tiered methodology used for radio stations, and continuing the changes adopted last year for stations in Puerto Rico; (iv) adopting fees for the new NGSO fee subcategories; and (v) extending last year’s streamlined waiver process into the current fiscal year.

AM/FM Broadcast Stations

For the third consecutive year, the FCC is proposing to increase fees for AM and FM broadcast radio stations. This year’s increase is approximately 8%. Most radio stations would be charged at least $1000. The de minimis rule, which currently exempts any radio station that has annual fees below $1000 from having to pay an annual fee, would be eliminated for the vast majority of full power radio broadcasters.

The FCC’s proposed broadcast radio fees are found here.

Television Broadcast Stations

For 2021, the FCC will use the same population-based fee system it used last year. The FCC will calculate a fee for each station based on the population count within the station’s projected noise-limited service contour (NLSC). The proposed 2021 fees are found here.

For 2022, the FCC wants to change the television fee structure to a tiered system, much like the one used for radio. This would simplify the fee system for television stations. The proposed 2022 tier structure is found here.

For stations in Puerto Rico, the FCC proposes to continue changes that were made last year. In 2020, the FCC adjusted the TVStudy estimates of populations served by the island’s television stations by subtracting the difference between 2010 census figures and the latest population estimate, and by limiting the population served by a primary station and commonly owned satellite stations to no more than the latest population estimate of the entire island. The FCC proposes to make the same adjustments this year.

Satellite and DBS

The FCC adopted two new fee subcategories – “less complex” and “other” – for non-geostationary orbit satellite (NGSO) systems. The FCC is now asking for comments on allocating regulatory fees in a ratio of 20/80% on the “less complex” and “other” NGSO systems, respectively.

For direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services, the FCC proposes to end the phase in of DBS regulatory fees and to assess the same per subscriber regulatory fee as for cable television and IPTV providers.

Commercial Mobile Radio Service

The FCC proposes to include non-geographic numbers in the calculation of the number of subscribers for each CMRS provider. Due to increased usage of non-geographic numbers for purposes such as machine-to-machine calling, the FCC concluded that counting them for regulatory fee purposes would not be duplicative of the geographic numbers. The FCC notes that the total amount to be collected from CMRS providers will not increase, but that per-subscriber fees will be reduced because the number of units will increase.

Extending COVID-19 Hardship Payment Flexibility

The FCC is proposing to extend the temporary measures adopted last year to help businesses suffering financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:

  • Permitting electronic submission of a single, consolidated request for waiver and deferral for financial hardship reasons.
  • Allowing parties seeking extended payment terms to do so by email.
  • Allowing an installment payment request to be submitted with any waiver, reduction, and deferral request in a single filing.
  • Reducing the interest rate charged on installments to a nominal rate, and waiving the down payment normally required before granting an installment payment request.
  • Allowing parties seeking relief on financial hardship grounds to submit their requests without all the required financial documentation.
  • Allowing debtors otherwise barred from filing requests or applications by the red-light rule to request relief due to financial hardship from the pandemic.

If you have questions about the proposed fees and changes, or you would like to file comments about the proposed fees, please contact any attorney in our office.