The proposal released by the Commission would for the first time charge every radio station a thousand dollars or more. The lowest-power AMs operating in the smallest markets would pay $1,050 this year compared to $975 last year. And the FMs with the most power and in the largest markets would pay $22,650 versus $20,925 last year. How much other stations are assessed would still depend on the class of the station, whether it is the AM or FM dial, and the size of the market that the station serves. Based on current estimates, the FCC believes it will collect $20.1 million from FM station annual regulatory fees this year, plus another $9.6 million from AM owners.
Any radio station that was on the air or granted a construction permit on or before Oct. 1, 2020 must pay a fee. Noncommercial stations remain exempt from paying annual regulatory fees.
Various other FCC fees will go up six percent if the Commission adopts the proposal as drafted. That includes the charge for an AM construction permit that would increase to $660 – it was $620 last year – while the fee for an FM construction permit would climb from $1,075 to $1,150.
Even as the FCC is proposing to hike the fees on radio, the agency is also proposing extending the temporary measures it adopted last year to help businesses suffering financial hardships because of the pandemic. Those include allowing some payment deferrals at a discounted interest rate, and in some extreme cases, fee waivers.
The proposal (MD Docket No. 21-190) notes, however, that there is a limit to how much the FCC can do under federal law. “We remind commenters that we cannot relax the standard for granting a waiver or deferral of fees, penalties, or other charges for late payment of regulatory fees,” it says. “The Commission may only waive a regulatory fee, penalty or interest if it finds there is good cause for the waiver and that the waiver is in the public interest.”
The FCC in 2017 doubled the threshold for the so-called “de minimis rule” to $1,000—that’s the amount under which a company need not pay a regulatory fee if what they owe falls below the figure. The theory is that the cost of processing small payments results in a net loss to the U.S. Treasury. But the proposed 2021 fees would put every radio station above that $1,000 threshold.