FCC Won't Collect Fees From Big Tech

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The FCC has decided not to tap the big pockets of Big Tech to help pay for its ongoing operations.

That came in a report and order Friday (Sept. 2) adopting a fee schedule to collect $381,950,000 in regulatory fees, which Congress requires, for FY 2022.

Also: State Broadcasters Say FCC Fee Regime Is Illegal

Broadcasters had called on the FCC to start assessing regulatory fees on Big Tech -- computer companies, streamers, and other edge providers -- saying they should not have to pay for computer company efforts (Microsoft in particular) to "degrade" their service. The FCC currently supports itself through fees on spectrum licensees.

But in the order, the FCC said: "We recognize the value in encouraging the development and innovation of technologies and decline to take such unprecedented action without a sufficient basis for making this change to the regulatory fee schedule."

Edge providers, cable operators and others opposed any new category, with NCTA-The Internet & Television Association pointing out that it wasn't even clear who would fall into the category, much less how such fees would be assessed.

Currently the fees are assessed according to the number of full-time employees (FTEs) in the various bureaus overseeing licensed operations -- media, wireless, wireline, etc.

"Use of spectrum on an unlicensed basis is nearly ubiquitous in modern-day society, and confers widespread benefits. Because of the large variety of uses of spectrum on an unlicensed basis, including for non-communications purposes, there is no specific user, service, or facility using this spectrum that could form the basis for a regulatory fee category of similar services," the FCC concluded.

The FCC pointed out that unlicensed users range from makers of baby monitors and garage door openers to medical imaging and Internet of Things industrial networks. The FCC said given that plethora of users, it would be hard to find a business, or consumer for that matter, who is not a user of unlicensed spectrum.

Broadcasters had argued that the FCC should not continue to burden broadcasters with helping subsidize their online competitors for eyeballs and ads by charging broadcasters a fee and not big tech, but the FCC said its reason for not applying the fee to the plethora of users simply applied to Big Tech as one of those many users and it would not create the category "premised on competitive considerations.... Competition for advertising revenues is not a sufficient basis for creating a new regulatory fee category," the FCC said. ■

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.