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NJBA Pushes Harder on Fee Cuts

Rotella says the commission should consider reductions across the board

Paul Rotella is doubling down: He wants the FCC not only to suspend any increases in broadcast fees but to permanently restructure and reduce them. And he’s not alone.

Rotella is president and CEO of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association, one of the organizations filing comments about this issue with the Federal Communications Commission.

[Read: FCC Proposes Regulatory Fees for 2020 Amid Uncertain Media Marketplace]

He and other broadcasters have been vocal that a hike in fees for broadcasters is not warranted, especially in the days of coronavirus; and as we reported earlier, Rotella had written to Chairman Ajit Pai recently asking the commission to hold off raising fees for radio and TV. But now, he writes: “Upon further reflection, restructuring and reduction in regulatory fees for broadcasters is warranted.”

For one thing, he said, “It is well known that the FCC’s attention and workload is now consumed with 5G wireless including C-Band, CBRS, Ligado and the various other spectrum-parceling efforts, and it is those 5G activities that should bear the brunt of FCC regulatory fees.”

He also argues that many concerns about fees that were raised last year by broadcasters have not even been addressed by the commission. “Broadcasters deserve some explanation of those points before any consideration is given to the exponential increase in regulatory fees.”

[Read: FCC Rule Suspensions Could Help Broadcasters Now]

Further, the FCC should consider an across-the-board reduction, “given the changing and increasing technological burden placed on the FCC by emerging technologies and the eloquent simplicity of regulating our industry, along with broadcasters’ longstanding special place in the fabric of American society. Couple this with the fact that the industry has not enjoyed any meaningful increase in revenue in a decade, and yet, fees keep increasing at an alarming rate.”

Among several more reasons, he noted that state broadcast associations earlier had asked for changes because, they argued, the FCC had based the fee structure on defective data, and said that the process used to allocate fees among industries unfairly shifted FCC “overhead” costs to radio and TV stations.

And Rotella said this is an issue for television as well as radio stations, which has tended to get the attention. “Although radio was hard hit with 50% increase in fees last year, the arguments are still the same,” says Rotella, “Especially during this time of catastrophic economic upheaval, coupled with the precarious economic forecasts ahead, is simply imprudent and will likely further hobble local broadcasters’ efforts to survive in the aftermath of COVID-19.”

On Thursday the National Association of Broadcasters filed its own comments calling for relief and reform. The NAB asked whether the commission “will continue to bury its head in the sand and fail to recognize the considerable inequities in its approach, which puts a stranglehold on the broadcasting industry.”

The commission is taking comments about fees in MD Docket No. 20-105 until June 12, and replies by June 29.