FCC regulatory fees up 23 percent


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The Commission has issued its annual Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to solicit comments on proposed changes to the regulatory fees.

While the NPRM includes a number of proposed procedural changes, the most striking of the proposals is in the amounts of the fees, which will be due in September. According to the Commission, the total amount of money that must be collected for each fee category will go up by 23 percent this year. Because that 23 percent increase is measured by category, if the number of stations in a category has declined (e.g., AM stations), fee increases in such categories will be greater than 23 percent. On the other hand, where the number of stations in a category has increased (e.g., FM stations), the fee increase may not be a full 23 percent.

The Commission also plans to amend the grid used in assessing AM and FM fees. The current grid divides broadcast station regulatory fees by class of station, population and type of service, to provide equitable fee distributions. However, in recent years, there has been a trend toward more powerful stations, and increases in the general population, resulting in an ever-larger number of stations in the highest grid category (i.e., stations in markets serving 1,000,000 or more listeners). Thus, the Commission is proposing a change to the population levels in each fee category to reflect wider population fields and to add a new 3,000,000-plus category.

The Commission plans to revise its regulatory fee waiver policy. Although fee waivers have historically been given in cases of financial hardship, the Commission questions whether bankruptcy always represents extraordinary and compelling circumstances justifying a waiver. A policy of automatically granting a bankruptcy waiver to large entities owing millions of dollars in fees, for example, might have significant impact on the Commission's mandate to collect fees.

The FCC is undertaking several initiatives that will streamline the process of collecting fees. These include the discontinuance of the routine mailing of regulatory fee public notices to all affected parties. Those public notices are dozens of pages long, and the costs of reproduction and mailing are considerable. To conserve its resources, the Commission proposes to make this information available on the Internet, and mail out a full public notice only on request.

Along the same lines, the Commission is planning a pilot program to mail postcards specifically stating the amount owed. The postcard will identify the station call sign, address, facility identification number and amount owed.

Auxiliary registration requirement

Licensees of broadcast auxiliary stations are now required to file a Notification of Construction within one year after construction of any auxiliary station has been completed. Stations that have recently applied for and received an auxiliary license, or have modified an existing auxiliary authorization, and have not filed the requisite notification of completion of construction, now must do so or face a waiver fee.

To access the FCC for this purpose, go to the Universal Licensing System (ULS) on the FCC website and enter your FRN and password. The new system will lead you to FCC Form 601 and give you instructions on how to complete the notification.

De facto DA a no-no

Is it permissible for an FM licensee with a non-directional antenna to add to or change the installation of the antenna in such a way as to give the signal directional properties? For example, a screen might be erected behind the antenna, or the antenna might be moved to a face of the tower.

The answer is no. The Commission has a long-standing policy that construction of facilities that are authorized as non-directional should conform as closely as possible to the assumption of perfectly circular horizontal radiation patterns. Its stated policy prohibits use of any technique or means intentionally to distort the radiation pattern of what is nominally a non-directional antenna.


Dateline:

Radio stations in North Carolina and South Carolina must file their license renewal applications on or before Aug. 1, 2003. Radio stations in those states and in California, Illinois and Wisconsin must file their biennial ownership reports with the FCC and place their EEO reports in their annual public files, also by Aug. 1.


Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC., Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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