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FCC Retains Higher Fees for VHF TV Stations in Regulatory Fee NPRM

The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FCC 10-51) [PDF] proposing regulatory fees for the 2010 fiscal year. Last year fees were based on TV stations' analog license; this year, they will apply to the remaining digital TV license. I was surprised to see the FCC has retained a significant differential between UHF and VHF TV stations, with VHF TV stations paying significantly more in fees. This is surprising, considering that in most markets, the UHF stations now provide far more reliable reception than the VHF stations. It directly contradicts an implied recommendation in the National Broadband Plan to move more DTV stations to VHF to make more of the more desirable UHF broadcast spectrum available to wireless carriers for broadband.

As an example, in markets 11 to 25, a VHF station would pay $60,531, while a UHF station would pay only $24,843 under fee structure in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM). I searched the NPRM with no success for a description of how they determine whether a station is counted as VHF or UHF. I maybe wrong, but it seems to me that this could only refer to the actual channel the station is broadcasting on, since the virtual channel now has no connection to the coverage or real operation of the station.

The NPRM is not the final fee structure and I expect there will be many comments on this before the May 4, 2010 deadline and reply comments before the May 11, 2010 deadline. Now that the DTV transition is complete, it's hard to see how the FCC can justify basing regulatory fees on a station's TV channel. It should be interesting to read the comments filed in this proceeding.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.