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UHFs Face Fee Hikes

Owners of UHF stations will see a hefty increase in this year's bill from the Federal Communications Commission. Believe it or not, you can thank a more efficient government for the price hike.

Monday the FCC proposed annual regulatory fees for all the telecom licensees it regulates, including broadcast stations, cable systems and DBS operators.

While fees drop for most categories of VHF stations, UHF fees will go up across the board if the commission approves the staff recommendations.

For UHF stations in top-10 markets, the fee would climb to $17,775, up 12% from fiscal 2003. In markets 11-25 the fee would rise 26% to $16,175; markets 26-50 up 15% to $9,300; markets 51-100 up 12% to $5,550, remaining markets up 16% to $1,650.

For VHF stations, only those in top-10 markets would pay more--an increase of 5% to $60,350. The rest would enjoy declines between 3% and 9%. An FCC staffer explained that the UHF hikes were due to efforts to cull exempt stations from the calculations used to set fees.

Because the FCC sets revenue targets for each category of licensee, a drop in the number of paying stations means the remaining ones have to pay more.

Fee waivers are granted for financial hardship or other reasons and UHF stations are more likely to win exemptions than VHF. A similar culling of the rolls led to higher fees for some radio stations.

On orders from Congress, the FCC aims to take in $273 million from regulatory fees, up 1.5% from 2003. Comments on the proposed fees are due April 21; replies April 30.

After the fees are finalized, licensees will be billed via postcard.