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NAB questions fee hike proposed by FCC for FY2021

The National Association of Broadcasters is expressing concern about what it is calling a significant increase in regulatory fees by the Federal Communications Commission on broadcasters.

For the third consecutive year in a row, the commission plans to increase fees to “unfair, unsustainable levels,” particularly in light of the economic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the broadcasting industry, the NAB said in its filing.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposed a 5 to 15% increase in regulatory fees for radio broadcasters face a (with TV broadcasters fee factor jumping nearly 9%) even though the commission’s general salary and expenses budget increased by only 0.5%, the NAB said. The FCC proposes to collect $374 million for the 2021 fiscal year, with Congress appropriating expenses into two separate categories: $341 million to cover FCC salaries and expenses and an additional $33 million specifically to cover costs associated with the implementation of the Broadband DATA Act.

Ann Marie Cumming, NAB senior vice president of communications, said in a statement that the NAB objects to its members being used to pay for the funding the Broadband DATA Act. The legislation is designed to improve accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps to help close the digital divide that exists between urban and rural areas.

Not only does the FCC fail to explain the reasons for this year’s fee increase, but it’s clear that the commission is forcing broadcasters to subsidize the regulation of other entities that are either contributing less than their fair share of fees or being given a free ride altogether, she said.

In its filing, the NAB said that the commission has an “obligation to ensure that its regulatory framework enables TV and radio stations to serve the public interest in free, over-the-air broadcast service, which means that the broadcast industry must remain economically viable in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”

The NAB urged the commission to adjust its proposal so that only the beneficiaries of the commission’s Broadband DATA Act initiatives pay for the associated costs. The NAB also pressed the commission to expand the base of fee payers to include big tech and other unlicensed spectrum users that use a substantial amount of the commission’s resources and benefit from its activities.

“Many broadcasters simply cannot afford unnecessary expenses in a year when revenues continued to decline due to the economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a slow-moving recovery,” the NAB said in its filing. “The commission must confront and correct the elements of its regulatory fee proposal that impair broadcasters’ ability to remain economically viable in a competitive marketplace, and undermine their ability to provide quality, free service to the public.”

The broadcast industry must remain economically viable in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the NAB said, a situation made all the more tricky because broadcasters cannot simply pass on regulatory costs to consumers.

The FCC is seeking comment on its proposed changes, which are available through Docket Number 21-190 at the FCC’s ECFS comment database. Reply comments are being accepted through June 18. Radio World

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