NAB: No More Free Regulatory Ride for Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Others

Microsoft Airband cities
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Broadcasters joining the call for the FCC to start assessing its 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.

In comments to the FCC on its proposed fees for fiscal year 2021, the National Association of Broadcasters said that the base of payors should be expanded to include unlicensed spectrum users that also take up a "substantial" amount of FCC resources but don't have to pay for the privilege.

The FCC supports itself through annual user fees levied on broadcasters and cable operators and satellite operators and their use of licensed spectrum. The fee is calculated according to how many full time employees (FTEs) are employed to regulate the various services.

Also Read: NAB Brands Airband Initiative Failed Science Project

NAB has been arguing that the FCC has boosted their fees to "unsustainable levels," in part thanks to its decision to require broadcasters to pay for some of the added funding Congress has said the FCC needs to use to create better broadband maps. Yet Big Tech companies that will benefit from those maps pay nothing.

NAB told the FCC this week it should be reaching into the deep pockets of computer companies for money. It pointed to broadcasters' long-standing battle with Microsoft over the latter's use of the broadcast band's so-called white spaces to deliver wireless broadband, but said others should be paying their own way as well. Microsoft this week expanded that primarily rural broadband effort to large cities.

Microsoft wants the FCC to allow it to use spectrum closer to broadcasters, while broadcasters say that runs a risk of interfering with its signals just as it is rolling out NextGen TV.

"Microsoft is using significant resources of the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) to urge the Commission to adopt further rule changes that will increase the risk of interference to television broadcasters to support its 'Airband Initiative,'" NAB told the FCC, and "only months after the FCC adopted earlier rule changes that benefit this technology. Microsoft is also seeking to overturn rules the Commission recently adopted to further the deployment of Next Generation TV services that will enhance service to television viewers. Yet despite the substantial Commission resources Microsoft and other unlicensed users utilize in these and other proceedings for their benefit, they pay absolutely nothing in regulatory fees to support the work of OET or the Commission generally, while Media Bureau regulatees pay for over 36% of the Commission’s costs."

NAB was focused on Microsoft, but said that Google, Apple, Facebook reap the benefits of commission activities as well. 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr recently called for the FCC to start making Big Tech contribute some money to the universal broadband effort the government is subsidizing with billions of dollars in tax money. "NAB agrees with Commissioner Carr’s recent call for the Commission to finally stop allowing Big Tech companies, many of which generated over $1 trillion in revenue in 2020 alone, to free ride on the Commission’s activities," the association 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.