New Fee Filing System Adds to September 28 FCC Regulatory Fee Deadline Challenges
The FCC released its Report and Order adopting the final amounts that regulatees must pay in annual regulatory fees for FY2022, and opened the filing window for making those payments. The window closes at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 28, 2022.
If paying the fees wasn’t challenging enough, as part of its continuing rollout of the Commission Registration System (CORES), the FCC has retired the familiar Fee Filer system that regulatees previously used to make these payments. As a result, regulatory fee payments must now be made through CORES, meaning that payors will have to contend with a new fee filing system for this year’s regulatory fees. Given the initial reactions of some that attempted to submit their regulatory fees since the window first opened, regulatees would be wise to start the process early, ensuring they have enough time to deal with the inevitable filing hiccups and still meet the September 28, 2022 deadline.
In the past, a party owing regulatory fees signed into the FCC’s Fee Filer system using the Federal Registration Number (FRN) of the licensee and the password established for that FRN. If a filer lost either the FRN or password they had used in prior years to pay the station’s fees, they could create a new account or reset the password on the spot to get their payments on file in a timely manner. The new filing system, however, uses a more cumbersome two-step process that is not conducive to overcoming last-minute issues involving a lost FRN or password, and has the potential to trip up those unaccustomed to it.
This is the same two-step process that broadcasters first had to navigate to file their Forms 1, 2 and 3 in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) in connection with nationwide tests of the EAS, which we wrote about back in 2017. That two-step process proved difficult for many and prevented some broadcasters from timely making their required filings, so we are describing the individual steps in detail below. However, stations should also be aware that if their engineer or lawyer completed this process in connection with the ETRS filings in 2017, they may now be considered by the FCC’s system as the Administrator of the licensee’s FRN. If so, they will need to be consulted to get the station’s regulatory fees on file this year.
To begin the process, the individual making the regulatory fee payment on behalf of the licensee must create a personal account in CORES here using their email address and a password of their choosing. This account is personal to the filer, not the licensee, and identifies who is making the filing on the licensee’s behalf.
Next, the filer must sign in to CORES here using that new account and choose the option to “Associate Username to FRN” on the main screen to be able to make filings under the licensee’s FRN. As noted, if someone else has already done this, that person will be the Administrator and must grant the “associate” request before the submission can proceed, delaying the regulatory fee filing until that person responds to a request to approve the association (assuming they respond at all if they have retired, departed, etc.).
Once the filer’s account is associated with the licensee’s FRN, the filer must sign into CORES and select the “Manage Existing FRNs/FRN Financial/Bill and Fees” option on the main screen.
On the next screen, they must select the “Regulatory Fee Manager” option.
Finally, they need to select the licensee’s FRN from a dropdown list of all FRNs associated with the account and click the “Find Assessments” button. The next screen should display the licensee’s name and a total fee due amount.
Licensees should click the link labeled “View” to see the details of what stations and fees are included in the total shown. Errors in importing prior year data are common, especially where a licensee has used multiple FRNs in the past, and early reports indicate that the system-generated fee totals are sometimes missing stations, putting those licensees at risk of interest and penalties if they do not add the missing stations/fees before filing. If fees or stations are missing, the licensee must click the button labeled “Add More Manually” to add the missing stations/fees. If all fees are accounted for, the filer clicks on the “Continue to Pay” button to complete the payment process.
As for the fee amounts themselves, broadcasters can review the Commission’s Media Services Regulatory Fees Factsheet summarizing the fees due in each Media Service category and look up the fees due for individual broadcast call signs here. The FCC notes that “[i]n some instances, it may be necessary to clear your browser before logging onto the website” to look up fees. Fees for authorizations in other services such as transmit earth stations can be found in the Factsheets for those services on the FCC’s regulatory fee page here. Information about seeking deferrals or exemptions from paying the fees (for those who might qualify) can be found here.
The bottom line is that broadcasters should act quickly to begin the FY2022 regulatory fee payment process because it will look very different from how it appeared in the past, and late or missed payments can incur significant interest and penalties.