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NAB Says Proposed FCC Fees 'Unfairly, Unlawfully' Burden Broadcasters

FCC
(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON D.C.—Responding to FCC proposals to increase regulatory fees on broadcasters, the NAB has filed new comments criticizing the FCC’s proposed fees as “unfairly, unlawfully, and disproportionately burdening broadcasters.”

The NAB also complained that the FCC is proposing to “raise broadcasters’ fees by a staggering 13%, despite the Commission’s budget increasing by 2.1%,” a fee increase that is more than six times the magnitude of the Commission’s budget increase. 

The NAB noted that “for years, broadcasters have urged the Commission to reform its methodology to ensure that the fees broadcasters pay bear a meaningful relationship to the work performed by Commission…to benefit or regulate the broadcast industry” and that “the Commission last year made important strides in conforming its fee methodology to the law by acknowledging that broadcasters do not benefit from the Commission’s broadband activities and modifying its methodology to exempt broadcasters from certain broadband-related costs.”

“Though last year’s regulatory fee process represented a step forward,” the NAB noted, “this year’s fee proposal takes significant steps backward by abandoning the modifications and taking no action on the growing need to expand the base of payors to include the beneficiaries of the bulk of the Commission’s primary activities – broadband internet service providers.”

“The FCC must ensure that its regulatory framework, including its assessment of regulatory fees, does not hinder broadcasters’ abilities to operate as viable private enterprises in a competitive market and to effectively serve the public interest and their local communities,” the NAB said. “The Commission must also disabuse itself of any notion that broadcasters can easily absorb unjustified regulatory fee increases. Fee proposals that require broadcasters to pay more than their fair share of the Commission’s costs directly harm broadcasters’ ability to compete in the communications marketplace, and have detrimental impacts on the Commission’s effort to advance digital equity for all by threatening small broadcasters’ ability to continue to serve rural and underserved communities.”

“Broadcasters are already subject to far more regulatory costs and burdens than other regulatees, and radio industry margins are already very thin,” the NAB continued. “Most radio stations operate with staff in the single digits, many doing more than one job to keep the station going. With stations dealing with continued fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and other inflationary pressures, many stations are simply trying to stay in business. A dollar more in regulatory fees is a dollar that can no longer go to the provision of local programming, including local news, or the purchase of equipment.  Given these realities, and the Commission’s duty to preserve the public interest in free, over the air broadcast radio and television service, it is essential that the Commission approach regulatory fees with the same care it would if its own money or that of its employees were at stake.”

To remedy the unfair fee structure, the NAB urged the Commission to: 

  • Ensure its methodology to properly account for the benefits received by the payor by the Commission's activities;
  • Refrain from holding broadcasters responsible for costs associated with the Commission's broadband work;
  • Reallocate broadband-related costs among fee payors that benefit from the FCC’s broadband activities; and
  • Consider increasing the de minimis fee amount.

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.