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Broadcasters to FCC: Leave Satellite TV Fee Alone

The FCC should not levy the same user fee on satellite stations that it does on their mother ships. 

That is according to station group owners Nexstar and Gray Television in comments filed at the FCC on the commission's proposed revise of its user fees per a congressional mandate to revisit them. They said to "obliterate" that distinction would boost satellite TV user fees "drastically." 

The FCC charges regulated entities according to how many full-time equivalent (FTE) employees it takes to screw in their respective regulatory light bulbs--oversee interference issues, mergers, facilities changes, regulatory or deregulatory requests, etc. 

Related: White House Proposes Spectrum Fees 

Currently the FCC charges a per-sub fee for full-power stations and a flat fee for the associated satellite stations, which retransmit a station's programming to extend its reach or get to hard-to-reach place, but lack the same rights as full powers.

The FCC moved to the flat fee for satellites in 1995, after the 1994 FCC reauthorization bill put in a separate fee for satellite TV stations, noting: “Congress intended the Commission to charge license fees based on the regulatory burden they impose, yet satellite stations require much less regulatory oversight than full powered stations;” and (2) applying full-power television station fees to satellite stations “would place an unfair and illogical burden on small market licensees who use satellite television stations to reach remote areas in their markets.” 

The FCC proposal to scrap the flat fee was in response to the RAY BAUMS Act, the first reauthorization of the FCC since that 1994 legislation. 

Nexstar and Gray say Congress and the FCC got it right in 1994-95 and that to change now would be arbitrary and capricious.  

By law (the Administrative Procedure Act), FCC decision must be defensible policy changes. The broadcasters point to the fact that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed standardizing the fees "spends a mere four words referring to the new approach while failing even to acknowledge the sea change it is proposing—much less explain why the change is warranted." 

"The proposed elimination of a separate flat fee for satellite stations is unjustified as a matter of policy, would be arbitrary and capricious if implemented, and has been insufficiently noticed to regulatees," they said. "For all these reasons, the Commission should not adopt the proposal and should instead revert to its decades-long practice of imposing a lower fee on satellite stations." 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.