They're Back: White House Proposes Spectrum Fees

Fees on users of unauctioned spectrum--broadcasters and cable operators, for example--have surfaced yet again in the White House's new budget. The Trump Administration has proposed collecting about $4 billion in new fees over the next decade.

The fee has become a regular feature of presidential budgets. But the White House proposes and Congress disposes, and heretofore, the fees have been disposed with before the budget has passed.

Broadcasters and cable operators already pay user fees based on the number of full-time employees (FTEs) whose time is consumed in regulatory oversight of their respective spectrum licenses. The spectrum fees are considered a "spectrum management tool," though also a money raiser.

According to the FCC's "now familiar" description of the fees, which was included in its budget estimate to Congress this week: "The FCC would be authorized to set user fees on unauctioned commercial spectrum licenses based on spectrum-management principles. Fees would be phased in over time as part of an ongoing rulemaking process to determine the appropriate application and level for fees. Fee collections are estimated to begin in 2020 and total $4 billion through 2029."

The National Association of Broadcasters said it will again oppose the fees, which it has said imperil the financial underpinnings of local television and the tens of millions of viewers they serve. 

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.