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Groups Call on FCC to Waive First-Term Fees for Incubating AM/FM Stations

MMTC, NABOB say waiving of fees sends powerful message about importance of diversity via incubation program

Of all the hurdles that new entrants and small broadcasters face when it comes to accessing capital to set up a broadcast station, there’s one challenge in particular that the Federal Communications Commission shouldn’t overlook: The task of keeping up with additional financial obligations like annual regulatory fees.

According to two media groups, the commission needs to reconsider the heaviness of that burden as part of its Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2019 Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was released in August 2019. As part of that order and rulemaking, the commission is seeking comment on whether it should adopt a lower regulatory fee for full-service AM and FM broadcast radio station incubator licensees.

[Read: Groups Press FCC to Recommit to Promoting Media Diversity]

The answer is a resounding yes, according to two those two media organizations. In new comments filed with the commission, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters reiterated its stance that additional financial obligations, such as regulatory fees, may render it more difficult for incubated entities to thrive under the FCC’s incubator program as stations attempt to access capital and apply for new construction permits.

In comments filed back in August, the two groups proposed that the commission give an outright exemption to incubated stations for having to pay regulatory fees for a the initial eight-year term of the incubation period.

With a subsequent request in the R&O and FNPRM, the FCC asked for commenters to discuss a reduction that approximates, perhaps, as much as 50%.

That’s an amount that the MMTC and NABOB take issue with.

“[The commission ] is silent on the reason for an ‘appropriate reduction’ in the fee, and we cannot conceive of any reason why only a partial fee reduction would be justified,” the group said in its most recent filing. “In our experience, broadcasters generally need strong financial incentives to participate in FCC diversity initiatives. A waiver of all fees for a license period would profoundly demonstrate the commission’s endorsement of incubation and create a powerful incentive for it.”

While the dollar amounts of regulatory fees for an eight-year license term are “meaningful,” the two said, they are not so large as to materially diminish the commission’s ability to fund its operations. As a result, the two groups are pressing the commission to adopt the MMTC/NABOB proposal as filed.

Comments on the issue of regulatory fees can be viewed at the FCC’s ECFS database using Docket Number 19-105.