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Broadcasters Get a Win on Regulatory Fees

When NAB and state associations complained about a hike, the FCC apparently listened

Broadcasters have succeeded at avoiding or limiting increases in their FCC regulatory fees this year.

The final commission order setting fees for FY 2021 has been issued, and rates for radio stations are pretty much what they were last year, instead of being increased as the commission had planned. Many rates will actually tick down.

The National Association of Broadcasters and state broadcast associations had pushed back on the planned hikes, citing the pandemic but also arguing that the way the commission allocates such fees is unfair, putting too much onus on commercial radio and TV stations and none on “Big Tech” companies that directly benefit from commission services. Noncommercial radio and TV stations are exempt from these fees.

[“NAB Continues Its Fight Against Higher Station Fees”]

The original proposal called for increases of 5% to 15%, while NAB noted that the FCC’s general salary and expenses budget increased by only 0.5%.

NAB estimates that the broadcast industry just saved about $5.3 million.

Here are three sample outcomes:

An FM Class B1 station in a very large market paid $18,375 in the past year, and the FCC planned to increase that to $19,650, but its final number was $18,285.

An AM Class A station in a medium-sized market paid $3,300 this year and was slated for $3,550, but ended up at $3,295.

And an FM Class B in a good-sized city paid $9,300 last year, and the FCC planned to increase that to $10,075. Instead its new rate is $9,270.

[Download a comparison of last year’s fees, the proposed fees and the final amounts.]

“NAB greatly appreciates the FCC’s efforts to revise its original regulatory fee proposal that would have required local radio and television broadcasters to subsidize unrelated work at the commission,” said NAB Senior Vice President of Communications Ann Marie Cumming in a written statement. “The change is not only the right outcome, but critical to the many broadcasters’ ongoing service to their local communities.”

The FCC also has a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding several fee issues, and invited comment on further fee reform.

Cumming said broadcasters want to work with the FCC in the coming year “to take a deeper look at the regulatory fee process to ensure all stakeholders that benefit from the commission’s work are paying their fair share and that those currently subsidizing the commission are no longer paying for work unrelated to their industries.”

NAB said the proposed increase had been based on an FCC decision “to make broadcasters pay for a significant portion of the $33 million in additional funding that was specifically appropriated by Congress to implement the Broadband DATA Act and other inequities in the FCC’s approach.”