As we wrote in several of our recent weekly summaries of regulatory issues for broadcasters, the FCC released a Public Notice the week before last announcing that regulatory fees must be submitted by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 28. This public notice set the deadline for the payment of fees established in the FCC’s Report and Order released just before Labor Day, which resolved objections to the higher fees that had been proposed for broadcasters by reducing those proposed fees somewhat (while still raising broadcaster’s fees on average about 8% over fees paid in prior years). Since the Public Notice setting the fee payment deadline, the FCC has been busy issuing numerous notices, providing guides, and launching web pages with information about the fees and the procedures for paying those fees.
A notice that should be reviewed by all broadcasters owing fees is one issued on Friday when the FCC released another Public Notice setting the specifics for payment of the fees. This notice details the payment process and requires that all payments be made through the FCC’s CORES database. The notice also states that payments can only be made by credit cards, VISA or Mastercard debit cards, ACH transfers or wire transfers. No cash or checks will be accepted.
For broadcasters, the Media Bureau also issued a guide to fee filing which is available here. The FCC also announced that broadcast licensees can look up their Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 regulatory fee amounts by logging onto the FCC’s website at http://fccfees.com and clicking on the “View Fee Information and Exempt Status for any Broadcast Property” link. The Bureau also separately issued a listing of TV stations by call sign, identifying their population count and fee amount. For radio, it also has a look-up database reflecting the fees that each station must pay.
Also released was a Public Notice setting out the categories of broadcasters that are exempt from paying fees. Noncommercial broadcasters are exempt. Note, however, that in some cases, that look-up database for radio stations has been slow to recognize the exempt status of some nonprofit licensees – particularly those that operate noncommercial stations in the commercial FM band or on AM frequencies. Noncommercial licensees with stations that do not show their exempt status should discuss with their FCC counsel how to correct that information to properly reflect their exempt status. The FCC also recognizes that licensees that owe “de minimis” amounts, less than a total of $1000 for all fees on a per-licensee basis, are also exempt. For broadcasters, this exemption will usually apply only to small stand-alone AM stations or licensees of secondary stations (e.g., LPTV, FM translators, TV translators, and FM boosters).
Finally, the FCC released another Public Notice setting out the process for requesting waivers, reductions or exemptions from regulatory fees. Any request for a reduction or waiver of the fees must be submitted by the September 28 due date and must state specifics about the reasons for the waiver. Financial hardship waivers require the submission of documentation showing the finances of the licensee and why the payment of fees would be an issue in the current circumstances. In most cases, unless it can be show that there is a financial hardship in paying, the request for waiver must include the payment (and ask for a refund). Read the Public Notice for more information on waiver requests.
There are significant penalties for late payment, so it is a good idea to file before the September 28 deadline to avoid any last-minute issue. If filed late, the FCC will assess a 25% late fee penalty. The FCC has provided plenty of information about filing requirements. Review these resources carefully, discuss with counsel as needed, and be sure to meet the September 28 deadline.