20-270: REC voices opposition to some ham fees, supports new fees for FM translators, auctions

REC Networks has filed Comments with the Federal Communications Commission in MD Docket 20-270.  This FCC proceeding implements a portion of the 2018 RAY BAUM’S Act as it relates to the change in the structure of FCC application fees from a codified schedule to a cost-based method, similar to how regulatory fees are charged.

REC had addressed the fees that have been proposed for the Amateur Radio Service.  So far, the volume of comments filed by individual Amateur Radio Service licensees have dominated this proceeding, with most opposing a proposed $50 fee on all new licenses, class upgrades, renewals, duplicate licenses and vanity call sign requests. 

REC’s position was that the Amateur Radio Service was the FCC’s best science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education initiative, and that it would not be appropriate to charge a $50 fee, especially when the license application filing is in recognition of an achievement through a successful score on a license examination.  REC argues that it is not in the overall public interest to place a burden on those who are willing to study and demonstrate their knowledge in an effort to advance the radio art, which the FCC regulates.

REC further argues that because of Electronic Batch Filing (EBF), most new license and license upgrade applications that go through independent Volunteer Examinator Coordinators go directly to the FCC’s Universal Licensing System and receive no manual handling from the Commission staff.  Like with the law related to regulatory fees, the new RAY BAUM’S language states that in the event that the cost to collect a fee is higher than the costs to process the application, the Commission can waive the application fee.  It is REC’s position that these EBF applications, a large majority of applications filed in the service, cost much less to process than to collect and therefore should not be subject to a filing fee.  If the FCC must charge a fee, it should be limited to renewals, duplicate license requests and vanity call sign requests.

In the broadcast sector, REC has supported the Commission’s proposed new $210 fee for minor modification applications for construction permits.  The fee proposed better reflects the work that is necessary by staff to analyze and process such applications.  REC also states that the addition of such a fee could curb some of the gamesmanship and spectrum warehousing that takes place.  Such activities can “block” potential channels for new and modified LPFM stations, especially in cases where the translator applicant has no real intention on building the facility.

REC also supported a $575 fee on the filing of Form 175, which is used for commercial broadcast auctions.  REC’s position is to charge a fee for each construction permit within a single broadcast auction that the applicant plans to bid on.  By imposing this fee on a per construction permit basis, this will eliminate most of the speculation that takes place in broadcast auctions by applicants who file a short-form in multiple auctions with no true intention of filing in the window.  Such gamesmanship denies opportunities to rural noncommercial applicants.  In the auction rules, if mutually exclusive applications are received from commercial entities (where a fee applies) and noncommercial entities (where no fee applies), the noncommercial application is dismissed right off the top.  If a construction permit in the auction only has short-form applications filed by noncommercial applicants, then the channel will either be awarded to the noncommercial applicant or if there are multiple applicants, the FCC rules regarding the selection process of noncommercial applicants will be enacted.

Applications for noncommercial educational broadcast stations including LPFM are not subject to any application fees as a matter of law.

Reply Comments are due by November 30, 2020.  REC reminds potential commenters in this proceeding that the Reply Comment period are intended solely to respond to comments that were made by others and that after the Reply Comment period is finished, the only items filed in this proceeding should be records of ex parte communications with FCC decision-making staff.  The last day for the general public to file general comments in this proceeding that are not Reply Comments was November 16, 2020.