The Federal Communications Commission has thrown broadcasters yet another curveball in their collection of 2019 annual regulatory fees. Despite issuing an order this week that explicitly said when all of its fees were due, the agency has now followed up with a new due date that’s a week earlier. It now means that every station must submit their annual fee to the FCC by Sept. 24 at 11:59pm ET or face a 25% late-filing surcharge.
The change is the latest headscratcher in what typically is a fairly routine practice. And because the decision on fees was made so late, the order that specifies what stations pay will technically not be in effect before the due date. That’s because the Aug. 27 order doesn’t go into effect until the document is published in the Federal Register and that’s something not likely to occur until sometime next month.
Broadcasters have already been puzzled by the annual fee schedule which initially proposed hiking what stations pay to the government by nearly 20% with no explanation given. The FCC this week conceded that it undercounted the number of stations that it expects to collect fees from by 553. It now puts the total number of radio stations that it expects to collect annual fees from at 10,011 and that larger number will decrease slightly what each station would be responsible for to cover the amount of money the Commission has targeted to collect from radio in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The change means that the largest class of FM stations will pay $20,500 in annual fees this year instead of $22,650 in the initial proposal. That still represents a 9% increase over the $18,880 paid last year. And the largest class of AM stations will pay $16,225 instead of $17,950. That’s an 8% increase from last year’s $15,050.
In the order, the FCC said the change should “somewhat mitigate concerns” raised by broadcasters although it offered no clues as to why it had targeted radio to squeeze out more money even as the agency’s budget remained flat at $339 million. The money collected from radio would pay for 25% of the Media Bureau’s total budget of $121.82 million, the Commission says. That compares to 21% from TV and 55% from the fees paid by cable and satellite TV services.
Recognizing that annual fees can be a burden on small stations, the Commission has explicitly included a reminder to broadcasters in its order that they are able to seek a waiver, reduction, or deferral of regulatory fees to reduce the impact when paying such a bill would cause a hardship on a station.