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FCC Hosts Reg Fee Fight

Cable operators and DBS providers continue to square off over FCC regulatory fees.

Earlier this month, the FCC gave notice in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that it plans to collect $322,035,000 in regulatory fees for FY 2018, which includes proposing to further lower the cable rate and raise the DBS rate in its ongoing effort to equalize the payments between the two, as cable operators have pushed for.

The FCC pays for itself through the fees it charges regulated entities, including broadcasters, cable and satellite operators, according to how many full time FCC employees (FTEs) it takes to regulate them.

Related: FCC Proposes Boosting DBS Fees, Lowering Cable

In comments to the FCC, Dish and DirecTV owner AT&T said that the boost from 12 cents per sub of three years ago to 48 cents today is uncalled for.

"Such an increase cannot be justified based on Media Bureau resources devoted to DBS providers and DBS providers’ participation in Media Bureau proceedings cited in the NPRM, and it would harm consumers," they told the commission. They said there appeared to be no basis for the ever-escalating fees."

They also said the FCC sites the same record in lowering cable fees by 20% as it does in raising DBS fees by 25%, while it should be clear that hundreds of cable operators impose more burdens on Media Bureaus staffers than two DBS companies.

NCTA begs to differ, sort of, saying that "over the past year, as in prior years, DBS providers have continued to meet with Media Bureau staff, submit filings in Media Bureau dockets and otherwise use Media Bureau resources at a rate significantly exceeding the vast majority of MVPDs and comparable only to the other largest MVPDs."

Cable operators also take issue with the DBS price, but because DBS is still not as much as they pay--currently 77 cents, though that has come down as the FCC tried to even that MVPD playing field.

In its comments on the fees, NCTA called the pace of regularization "glacial" and pushed for evening them up ASAP, as did the American Cable Association.

"ACA applauds the FCC for its steady march toward parity. However, it is now time for the FCC to complete the journey and adopt an identical rate for DBS and cable television/IPTV providers," ACA President Matthew Polka said. "As the FCC has recognized again and again, the burden on Media Bureau full time employees (FTEs) of regulating and overseeing DBS and cable/IPTV providers is 'roughly the same.'"

DBS operators used to pay per license, but three years ago the FCC decided to require DBS to pay on a per-sub basis, as do MVPDs.

The FCC decided to stagger the increase as it worked to regularize the payments--while DBS was paying 38 cents per sub in 2017, MVPDs (cable and IPTV) were paying 96 cents.