FCC Regulatory Fee Schedule Released: UHF Stations Still Pay Less

TV stations with analog VHF channels will pay significantly higher regulatory fees this year according to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Order on the Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for 2009 (FCC 09-38) released yesterday.

The FCC maintained the policy it has followed since the start of the DTV transition—fees are assessed on analog station licenses, not the digital licenses.

The difference in proposed fees for VHF and UHF stations is significant. For example, VHF stations in San Diego (Market 28) would pay $37,575 in regulatory fees, while UHF stations in the same market will pay only $13,350.under the proposed fee schedule.

These fees are assessed to recover the regulatory costs associated with the FCC's enforcement, policy and rulemaking, user information and international activities. For 2009, the FCC is obligated to collect more than $341 million in fees. The FCC allocates these costs between all the services it regulates. Even Amateur Radio operators have to pay a regulatory fee if they want a "vanity" call sign. For some services, the fees are paid when the license is issued or renewed, while others, like broadcast station licenses and broadcast auxiliary licenses, are assessed annually. For broadcasters, the fee is based on licenses or initial construction permits granted on or before Oct. 1, 2008.

Will the FCC maintain the same distinction between UHF and VHF digital TV licenses in next year's fee assessment? That may be difficult. Many engineers would argue that since few households have outdoor antennas, VHF stations no longer have an advantage over UHF stations. One approach would be to base the fees on the major channel number (the original analog channel), but that could create a situation where a VHF DTV station is paying UHF regulatory fees based on its old analog channel while a UHF DTV station pays a much higher fee because it had a VHF analog channel. How would the fee be determined for stations that never had an analog channel?

A simple option would be to adopt the same fees for all TV stations in a market, but that would be a greater burden for small TV stations catering to niche audiences. Another option would be higher fees for stations with the highest ratings or for stations affiliated with major networks. Any choice is likely to be controversial.

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Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.