FCC Releases Annual Regulatory Fee Order

From Elizabeth Craig of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth

As we begin the march into cooler weather, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has released the final schedule of regulatory fees for 2019 and their due date.  Despite some initial confusion around the release of the deadline, the confirmed date is September 24, 2019 and the Fee Filer website is now active and ready to accept payments.

Fees must be paid by September 24, 2019

As is regularly the situation, the fees adopted by the FCC are similar to the fees proposed in May, with AM and FM broadcaster regulatory fees decreasing slightly as a result of an increase in the number of fee-able licensees.  Additionally, the Commission officially adopted the de-minimis fee exemption, which means that if a licensee’s total regulatory fee obligation is $1,000 or less, no payment will be due.  However, this exemption excludes multi-year regulatory fees such as those for wireless services licenses.

As can be expected, failure to pay regulatory fees on time can result in severe penalties, including:  (1) a late payment penalty of 25% of the unpaid amount to be assessed on the first day following the deadline; (2) additional processing charges for collection of late fees; and (3) administrative penalties, such as withholding action on or potentially dismissing applications from delinquent parties as well as possible revocation of authorizations.

Don’t worry if you haven’t received your fancy, new Amex Black Card, the Commission provides for several ways to pay.  Under the electronic filing regime, regulatory fees must be paid electronically, by either ACH payment, online credit/debit card, or wire transfer.  This means you don’t have to worry about finding your long-lost checkbook.

Be aware though, the maximum payment that can be charged to a single credit card on a single day is $24,999.99.  This applies to single and bundled payments, so if you owe more than $24,999.99 for a single license, you will not be allowed to split the payment into multiple payment transactions, nor will you be permitted to spread the payment out over multiple days using one or more credit cards.  To simplify matters, the Commission recommends that anyone expecting a fee obligation of $25,000.00 or more should consider using Visa or MasterCard debit cards, wire transfer, or an ACH debit from a bank account.

To avoid late-fees and last-minute complications, we recommend that you not wait until the final day to file and pay your regulatory fees, especially when making an ACH payment.  ACH payments must be made by September 23 – they are like checks that must be processed overnight and can take a day to clear.  Making an ACH payment on the due date will not credit to the FCC until the next day which will incur late fees.  Further, on the last day, the website can be slow when everyone is trying to access it and the system is not particularly self-explanatory or easy to understand, but you can always ask your communications counsel for help in the coming weeks.

You can log into the fee filer system here using your FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password or your Commission Registration System username and password.  Then you will need to generate a Form 159-E (which must be submitted as part of the payment process) and then move along with the payment process.  If you are paying by wire transfer, you will need to fax in your 159-E, so keep it handy.

Here is a helpful hint when trying to figure out exactly what you owe:  don’t rely exclusively on the Fee Filer system.  While Fee Filer usually lists fees associated with the FRN used to log into the system, the list may not be complete.  This is also true for the broadcast regulatory fee “lookup” page the FCC provides.  Ultimately, it is up to the payer to confirm the fullest extent of the payer’s regulatory obligation, so triple check your records and other FCC databases to make sure nothing gets overlooked.  Lastly, in continued good fortune for broadcast filers, there are yet again no fees due for broadcast auxiliary licenses.

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