Trump/FCC Propose Billions in New User Fees

The White House, backed by the FCC, is once again seeking to impose a new fee on communications providers that would amount to billions of dollars.

That is according to the FCC's FY 2019 budget, released this week as part of the Administration's overall budget proposal.

The fees, which would be levied on broadcasters, cable operators, satellite operators, would be in addition to the regulatory fees they already pay to cover the FCC's cost to regulate them.

User fees have become a common line item in White House budgets, both Republican and Democratic, including in the Trump 2018 budget, but have heretofore never made it into a final budget passed by Congress, thanks in no small part to the powerful pushback by broadcasters.

"Consistent with our position on previous proposed White House budgets, NAB will oppose spectrum fees that imperil the financial underpinnings of local television and the tens of millions of viewers we serve," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.

If the new fees were to make it into law, the FCC estimates they would bring in an additional $4 billion over the next decade.

The fee is billed as a spectrum management tool, which broadcasters have long feared would be used as a financial lever to try and pry them off their spectrum to provide even more spectrum space, licensed and unlicensed, for broadband.

Elsewhere on the FCC budget front, chairman Ajit Pai is not calling for any more staff cuts.

The 2018 budget cut the staff by 6.6%, or 102 full time employees, from 1,550 to 1,448, but the 2019 budget says it will need all those 1,448.

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.