Indiana Broadcasters played a key role in the ultimate decision by the FCC to roll back regulatory fees for broadcasters, following objections raised by the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations – which is led by Indiana’s own Dave Arland. The National Association of Broadcasters also objected to the proposed increases for 2021.
“The FCC is one of a handful of federal agencies required to tax the entities they regulate to fund their operating budget. This is a perennial problem with the agency, which comes back with hat in hand to broadcasters year after year – even though there are many large tech companies that obviously benefit from FCC actions and yet get a pass on providing funding for the agency,” Arland explains.
“The situation boiled over this year, when FCC staff suggested that broadcasters should help fund a new $30+ million Broadband Data Report to study Internet speeds. We don’t have anything to do with that, and we made that point vehemently with each Commissioner’s office,” said Arland, who heads the Indiana Broadcasters Association and leads the national alliance this year. “I’m grateful to Dave Peach of Forcht Broadcasting in Crawfordsville who gave me one important statistic to share with FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel. The proposed fee increase would have meant selling 100 more commercials just to pay the annual regulatory fees. In the end, our arguments were persuasive and the FCC backed off. All 2021 FM Radio fees are lower than 2020’s fees, and most AM Radio fees went down or stayed the same compared to 2020. TV received a similar benefit,” Arland said.
2021 Fees are due this coming Friday.
In a win for broadcasters, the FCC was convinced to lower the broadcast fees that the FCC had initially proposed, avoiding a proposed significant increase in the fees on radio. As was the case last year, stations that can show that COVID significantly affected their finances may qualify to pay their fees over time, rather than in the lump sum that will be due before October 1.
Here’s the bottom line:
- Annual regulatory fees are due by September 24, 2021.
- Annual regulatory fees must be filed electronically at gov/feefiler.
- Annual regulatory fee increases originally proposed for broadcasters were rolled back under intense lobbying pressure from trade associations representing broadcasters.
- The FCC has commenced a proceeding to examine how it can more equitably implement the congressionally-mandated obligation to collect its entire appropriation from those that benefit from its operations.
“We urge broadcasters to get into the FCC’s fee filing system now and pay their fees. We have been told that there are sometimes glitches in the electronic payment system that can take time to resolve. With a 25% penalty on payments received after the September 24 deadline, broadcasters should not wait until the last minute to submit these fees and risk having to pay the steep penalty for a late payment should a glitch arise,” said Dave Oxenford, counsel to the IBA in Washington.
The FCC has issued numerous public notices about the payment of these annual regulatory fees that anyone paying fees should review to make sure that they know all that they need to know to make a complete and timely payment. The FCC initially issued a Public Notice announcing that the payment window is open and will be open for timely payments through 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time on September 24, 2021. The Media Bureau subsequently released a Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide setting out payment specifics for computing the fees due from broadcast stations. Fees are based on a station’s status as of October 1, 2020, so stations that have since changed facilities pay on the facilities as they were last year – and that is what should be reflected in the FCC’s database. The FCC also issued a Fact Sheet explaining who does not owe fees – including noncommercial stations and companies whose total obligations are $1,000 or less.
Oxenford explains that the FCC also released a separate Payment Procedures Public Notice. Review that notice to make sure that you are following the correct procedures to make the required payments. In this time when many stations are still suffering from the economic downturn last year because of the pandemic, the FCC recognized that fee payments could imperil the broadcast services offered by some particularly hard-hit stations. Licensees that want to seek a waiver, deferral or reduction of their regulatory fees based on financial hardship from the pandemic should review yet another Public Notice setting out the procedures for such requests. These requests, which must be submitted by September 24, should include financial documentation demonstrating the hardship of a timely payment. The FCC won’t just take your word when evaluating your economic issues and hardship request – you must document that the timely payment would imperil specific services that your station provides.
“So while the news about regulatory fees is generally good, don’t wait. You should be working on these filings now. Don’t delay, as the penalty for an untimely payment is steep,” Arland said.