NAB Calls Out FCC Errors in Regulatory Fee Process

(Image credit: NAB)

WASHINGTON—As so much has changed over the last five months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, something has remained unchanging, disappointingly for broadcasters. The FCC’s decision to increase TV and radio regulatory fees for Fiscal Year 2020 has been a point of contention amid the pandemic, and NAB has been a strong opponent of it.

A filing from the NAB summarized two recent teleconferences its representatives had with FCC officials to discuss the Report & Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the proposed increased regulatory fees. Citing the dramatic effect of the pandemic, NAB once again requested that the FCC not raise any industry segment’s contribution, apart from any that were determined prior to the pandemic.

“The FCC’s regulatory fee process remains a frustrating, impenetrable exercise despite repeated calls for more transparency and justification of how the fees are calculated,” the NAB wrote. The organization made the case that radio broadcasters are being forced to deal with “disproportionate, unjustified and unduly burdensome fee increases,” despite no change to the FCC’s budget compared to FY2019.

NAB believes that a series of “missteps” have resulted in these fee increases:

  • [T]he commission’s current approach results in broadcasters arbitrarily paying for higher percentage of FTEs in offices such as the Office of Engineering and Technology, which is largely focused on unlicensed spectrum issues and provides little to no benefits to broadcasters; 
  • There is no explanation of how the work of certain commission employees are characterized, or if these employees are even paid out of regulatory fees; 
  • No discussion or justification of the apportionment within the bureaus and offices to which industry work is attributed; 
  • Failure to broaden the FCC’s base of payors to include the numerous well-funded technology companies that interact with the commission; and 
  • The unlawful failure to account for application fees already paid by broadcasters in assessing regulatory fees, effectively resulting in broadcasters paying twice for the work done to process such applications. 

NAB believes the current FCC regulatory fee process does not adhere to the Administrative Procedure Act and raises serious constitutional questions.

All of these issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the NAB. “These are extraordinary times that more than justify a slight deviation from the commission’s usual approach to regulatory fees,” the organization wrote.

The NAB officially asked the FCC to not require any industry to pay more regulatory fees than they did in FY2019. It also asked for temporary reforms to ease the regulatory fee burden on broadcasters amid the pandemic.

No action has been taken by the FCC as of yet to these requests.