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FCC Proposes 6% Cut to Radio Regulatory Fees

The commission also wants to ditch pandemic-related financial relief

The Federal Communications Commission has delivered some good news to broadcasters by proposing lower regulatory fees in its budget for the new fiscal year beginning this fall. 

The agency is proposing a 6% cut in the fees AM and FM broadcasters pay to help fund the annual operations of the Media Bureau. This is the second consecutive cut after last year’s 5–7% decrease. The decided-upon regulatory fees will be due by Oct. 1.

The commission has the authority to assess and collect regulatory fees each year in an amount equal to its annual appropriation. For FY2024, the commission must recover more than $390 million to cover all of the its direct costs, such as salaries for its projected 1,600 full-time employees.

Broadcasters will help cover the operational costs of the FCC’s Media Bureau and its 140 full-time employees, which has a budget of approximately $114 million. Broadcasters will cover nearly half of that, or $55.1 million.

In general, the Media Bureau’s budget represents 29.4% of the FCC’s overall budget. 

Radio and TV broadcasters are also catching a break, with the commission deciding that the salaries of 63 full-timers in the Office of General Counsel, the Office of Economics and Analytics and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will no longer be shared by broadcasters, according to the fee proposal.

Overall, the FCC’s proposed $390 million budget is an increase of 14.8% over the previous year, according to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The agency hopes to add about 75 full-time employees under the new budget.

The proposal would also bring the end of temporary relief measures the commission implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCC provided certain temporary relief to regulatory fee payors experiencing financial hardship caused or exacerbated by the pandemic through a combination of partial rule waivers, but plans to ditch those temporary measures in FY2024.

“The circumstances for which the measures were temporarily implemented have changed. The National Emergency COVID-19 pandemic has ended,” the FCC says in the proposal.

In addition, the commission says broadcast stations that are dark, or were recently dark, will no longer merit an automatic waiver of regulatory fees. Instead, the commission says it will choose to waive fees on a case-by-case basis.

“We propose instead to require these licensees to submit supporting financial documentation with their fee requests to prove financial hardship sufficient to justify a fee waiver, just as all other regulatory fee payers are required to do…” the FCC says in the NPRM.

However, in order to give regulatory fee payors more time to make any necessary changes to comply with the change in policy, the FCC proposes to make the change effective starting fiscal year 2025.

The National Association of Broadcasters will likely be pleased with the fee proposal. The NAB has argued regulatory fees for broadcasters have been too high, and previously asked the commission to revise its methodology for calculating the fee schedule. The NAB suggested the FCC should reallocate some costs to industries that benefit from the work performed.   

The FCC is seeking comment on the annual fee NPRM (Docket No. 24-86) through July 15. Reply comments will be due by July 29.

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