Radio’s annual fees will mostly drop this year as the Federal Communications Commission continues reworking its math to better match how much each service consumes in agency resources with regulatory fees. The Commission has approved a proposed list of fees released three months ago that will reduce the amount collected from AM/FM stations by 13%.
The fee schedule lowers what FMs with the biggest potential audience reach pay to $18,800, a 15% reduction compared to a year ago. And AM stations with the largest reach would see their annual fee drop 16% to $15,050. Most classes of FMs and AMs would also see their annual fees reduced, although by a smaller percentage. Just a handful of station classes would remain the same as what broadcasters paid in 2017. Overall, the FCC is expected to collect $26.9 million in regulatory fees from AM/FM owners this year.
The FCC last year doubled the threshold for the so-called de minimis rule to $1,000—that’s the amount under which a company need not pay a regulatory fee if they fall below. That $1,000 trigger remains in place in 2018. The FCC also notes that regulatory fees will need to be paid for any construction permits that were granted on or before Oct. 1, 2017.
There are a few changes in the works for how the FCC will determine fees. Under the Ray Baum Act passed by Congress earlier this year, the Commission is no longer permitted to charge administrative costs of collecting delinquent regulatory and application fees and penalties beginning Oct. 1. Instead, the FCC will charge interest in addition to the 25% late penalty.
Another change makes television fees more similar to how radio fees are calculated. They’ve been based on market size, but beginning next year they’ll be based on examining the actual population covered by the station’s contours. That’s similar to how radio fees are already calculated, the Commission noted in the order. “This approach addresses concerns about the assessment of regulatory fees on broadcast television satellite stations serving small markets at the fringe of larger DMAs,” it added.
The fees will be due Sept. 25. Failure to pay on time not only results in a 25% surcharge but the FCC is also authorized to revoke a station license for failure to pay a regulatory fee. More common however is unpaid fees that trigger the “red light rule,” which blocks any applications or other requests filed by a station from being processed.
FCC Staffing Holds Steady
The FCC will collect $322,035,000 in overall regulatory fees from broadcasters and other regulated industries this year. That’s a 9% reduction compared to what it collected a year ago. The agency expects $113.22 million of the money collected will come from companies operating under the Media Bureau’s jurisdiction, including radio. Under the plan approved, all of the Media Bureau fees will be reallocated back into the Bureau’s operation. The budget proposes maintaining a full-time payroll at 1,448 employees, which the FCC has said will allow for a “lean, accountable, more efficient” agency.
Among the number of objectives the FCC hopes to achieve in 2019 is clearing more than 8,000 pending radio and television applications currently back-logged. Among the areas where the FCC plans to spend money next year is for new FM translator auctions and on the implementation of Blue Alerts. It will also modernize more of its information technology systems, including the software used by broadcasters when the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) is activated, such as after a hurricane.
Other Fees Go Up
Even as the FCC is maintaining or even lowering the amount of regulatory fees AM/FM stations are charged each year, it has been forced to reassess what it charges for various applications. Under federal law, every two years the FCC must take into account inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. After completing its analysis, the agency last month adopted an across the board 3.7% increase in all applications fees. In what seems as much an apology to license holders as it is an explanation, the Commission said in a brief order that the methodology and timing are prescribed by federal law and that the statute “leaves us no discretion and comment is unnecessary.”
In practical terms, the rate hike means that for commercial stations a new or major change construction permit filing fee will rise to $3,975 for FMs and $4,415 for AMs. Minor change applications will cost $1,110 for both AMs and FMs. Most other fees are also identical regardless of which band the station is on. An application for a new license will cost $725. Main studio waiver requests will cost $1,110. License renewal applications will carry a $200 fee. And filing to sell a station will cost $1,110. Call sign changes will run $110; while applications for Special Temporary Authority will cost $200.
The fees related to FM translators are also going up. A construction permit application filing fee increases to $835. License renewals will cost $70. And applications to sell a translator will carry a $160 filing fee. See a list of all the newly-revised radio and TV fees HERE.