The National Association of Broadcasters is making a big push to end Big Tech’s free ride when it comes to paying FCC spectrum regulatory fees, it said.
In response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking if the FCC should adopt new regulatory fee categories to collect fees from unlicensed spectrum users, NAB seeks changes to the FCC regulatory fee structure so that fees more fairly and lawfully reflect the work performed by the commission and the benefits received by various industries, the association said.
“The commission’s current approach is unlawful and unconstitutional because, among other things, it forces broadcasters and others to subsidize commission activities with substantially benefit other regulatory fee payors and other entities that currently contribute nothing to the commission’s funding,” NAB wrote in its most recent comment.
In fact, NAB previously has claimed the FCC is using a “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach to assessing fees.” The FCC expects to collect $374 million this year from all the industries it regulates, including broadcasters, cable and phone companies, internet providers and satellite operators.
The FCC’s fee schedule collects the total amount appropriated in a given year and is guided by statutory requirements that the “fees reflect the full-time equivalent number of employees within the bureaus and offices of the commission, adjusted to take into account factors that are reasonably related to the benefits provided to the payor of the fee by the commission’s activities.”
NAB claims the FCC routinely violates that statutory requirement. “NAB focuses on current FCC methodology based solely on the number of direct full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) in the four core bureaus of the commission, which results in a fee schedule that reflects on the work performed, and the benefits provided, by a mere quarter of the commission’s operations,” NAB commented.
The broadcast industry group urges the commission take several steps to bring its fee structure into compliance with its statutory mandates, including reassessing its proportional allocations of indirect commission costs to determine whether such allocations align with the actual amount of work performed by noncore bureaus and offices on behalf of regulatory fee payors.
“Secondly, the FCC should perform the analysis necessary to add a fee category for broadband service providers or exempt broadcasters from paying for any broadband costs,” the NAB wrote in comments.
And NAB insists the FCC can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that Big Tech — companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon — take up significant commission resources under the banner of unlicensed spectrum, yet pay no associate regulatory fees as a result.
“For example, over the last few years Big Tech helped lead a massive and expensive push to use 6 GHz spectrum for their benefit (and to the detriment of many licensed operators, including broadcasters). Big Tech companies drained significant commission resources, and yet remarkably, broadcasters and others footed the bill,” NAB commented.
NAB says it believes the FCC already has the authority to require unlicensed spectrum users to pay for commission activities that benefit their businesses.
And NAB says it is not singling out “small appliance and other home good equipment manufacturers” whose devices make use of unlicensed spectrum, which is a concern shared by the Consumer Technology Association. In fact, the broadcast industry group believes there are ways to avoid capturing small entities in the fee category. “However, it makes little sense to delay imposing regulatory fees on Big Tech companies that actively participate in commission proceedings, benefit economically from the commission’s activities (often at the expense of other regulates), and actively compete with broadcasters and other regulatory fee payors for advertising revenue,” NAB wrote the FCC.
Reply comments on the NPRM (MD Docket No. 21-190) are due Nov. 5.