Last week the FCC released its Report and Order (FCC 12-76) regarding the Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2012. In this R&O, the FCC continued to maintain the huge disparity in regulatory fees charged TV broadcast stations transmitting on VHF channels as compared to those transmitting on UHF frequencies.
Stations transmitting on VHF channels--which have been widely acknowledged as inferior to UHF channels, at least for indoor antennas--pay more than twice as much as stations transmitting on more desirable UHF channels in the top 25 markets. In markets below 100, VHF stations still pay 70 percent more.
Why the difference?
The fees are supposed to represent the cost to the FCC to regulate these stations. In analog days, VHF stations tended to be network affiliates that created more work for the FCC. It’s hard to make the same argument today, when many network affiliates that transmitted analog on VHF are now using UHF for their digital transmissions and paying much less in regulatory fees, even though their virtual channel number hasn't changed. However, DTV stations transmitting on VHF may be better able to afford the extra fees as they usually have significantly lower power bills.
While VHF fees are much higher than UHF fees, the total amount is less, dropping from $84,625 in 2011 to $80,075 in the top-10 markets this year. In the same markets, UHF fees increased slightly from $34,650 to $35,350. This seems to indicate that the FCC is slowly moving to reduce the UHF/VHF fee disparity, even though there was no mention of that in the R&O.
This year's regulatory fees are based on licenses held on Oct. 1, 2011. I didn’t find a due date for payments in the R&O. That will likely be released in a Public Notice with fee payment details. Failure to pay regulatory fees on time will result in a penalty of 25 percent above the payment normally due, which could be substantial for a group owning VHF DTV stations.