FCC Seeks Comment on Updating Regulatory Fees

The FCC wants to know how it should change its regulatory
fee structure to match the "extensive changes" in the communications
marketplace. The FCC has not revamped how it collects fees from the entities it
regulates since 1998.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking released Tuesday, the FCC
is seeking input on fairness, ability to administrate it, sustainability, how
the direct and indirect costs should be allocated, and how to mitigate any
substantial fee increases realignment could create.

"[N]ew technologies have caused an exponential increase
in intermodal competition across formerly distinct industry platforms,"
the FCC said. "This has made it even more common today than in 1998 that a
Commission employee's work may be attributed to more than one fee category. For
example, the cost of an employee's work in designing incentive auctions might
be attributable to several fee categories within the media sector, but it would
also potentially benefit providers of mobile broadband services who would
ultimately use the reclaimed spectrum."

The FCC determines the fees for each sector according to how
much time employees spend on work that can be assigned to each major bureau -- Wireless
Telecommunications, Media, Wireline Competition and International.

The NPRM provides some insight into what the commission
suggests would be fairer than the current system. It suggests that imposing the
same fee on a Fortune 500 company and small business would have "very
different effects." Currently, if both own a station in the same size
market, for example, they pay the same fee. The notice also suggests it might
not be fair for similar services provided over similar technologies might be
paying different fees only because their services fall into different fee
categories or don't fit into any existing categories.

"I am pleased that the Commission is seeking additional
comments on ways to modify our regulatory fee structure -- a reform which is
long overdue," said commissioner Robert McDowell. "As I have said
many times in the past, the Commission should update its fee structure to
ensure that they are levied not only in a fiscally prudent manner, but in a
nondiscriminatory and competitively neutral way as well." He also said he
would monitor the proposed changes to make sure the FCC has the legal authority
for any changes.

"[T]oday's currency is convergence: Telephone companies
have entered the video market, cable operators are winning voice customers,
satellite operators offer competitive radio, television, and broadband
services, and wireless providers have unleashed a mobile revolution few if any
saw coming," said commissioner Ajit Pai. "I look forward to hearing
from all interested parties about how we can update our regulatory fee
structure to better reflect the current marketplace."

John Eggerton

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.