It's the dog days of summer in Washington, when the powers-that-be leave town to avoid the warmth and humidity. The FCC hasn't issued any major orders this month, so it seems appropriate to do a regulatory potpourri of various and sundry matters.
Annual Regulatory Fees
The FCC released the final table of annual regulatory fees, which will be due in September. The actual deadline for the submission of the fees has yet to be announced. Typically, the filing window opens in August, and the FCC permits filing up through the deadline in September. Just as it did last year, the FCC announced that it will not be sending out bills to licensees, but the fees can be checked at fccfees.com. This website has yet to be updated with the 2012 fees, but we expect that it will be open for business by the middle of August.
It is important to check that the FCC's records are accurate, especially if you believe that you are exempt from paying annual regulatory fees. As in past years, each licensee should pay close attention to the information the FCC has in its records, and remember to include broadcast auxiliary licenses, which have not been associated in the FCC's records previously.
Interestingly, the FCC will, for the first time, require parties request a reduction, waiver, refund or deferment of the regulatory fee to submit the request electronically. However, the FCC has yet to establish the mechanism by which the requests can be submitted, which may be one reason why it hasn't yet opened the window.
Coupled with the establishment of the 2012 regulatory fee payments, the FCC released a notice of proposed rules looking into the methods associated with the calculation of the regulatory fees. Congress directed the FCC to collect regulatory fees based on the number of times its employees (full-time, or their equivalent) have spent on licensing matters associated with the main licensing Bureaus, Media, Wireline, Wireless, and International, and considers the projected number of regulatory fee payors in each category.
The problem is that the FCC has used the same workload figures that were calculated in 1998. Since it is likely these figures have shifted, perhaps significantly, since 1998, the FCC is concerned that if it simply recalculated the workload, some licensees might suffer from a new form of "bill shock." Moreover, since 1998, the Commission has become more interdisciplinary, so that employees working on incentive auctions could be said to be working on both Wireless and Media matters, and there is no current method for parsing out the workload.
Thus, the FCC is seeking comment on how to equitably take into account evolving regulatory shifts in the industries regulated by the FCC. At publication, the filing date for comments had yet to be set. Television broadcasters may want to pay close attention to this issue, since one can assume that the work associated with incentive auctions will be taken into account, and it is reasonable to consider whether broadcasters who face the repacking of their spectrum must also pay for the time it takes the FCC to implement the new rules.
Tower Registration Update
In June, we addressed the new FAA lighting guidelines and the FCC's implantation of the new antenna structure registration process. As publication, the FAA has yet to issue the new guidelines. Moreover, the Commission has yet to make the new ASR registration form available.
In July, we reviewed the ongoing lawsuit between Mission Abstract Data and broadcasters regarding claims of patent infringement. At that time, MAD had requested that the stay in the proceeding be lifted in light of a Patent Office action affirming aspects of certain patent claims. Broadcasters had objected to the lifting of the stay, referencing the submission of a further re-examination request regarding one of the patents, and the intention to submit a request for re-examination of the other patent. In early July, MAD submitted its reply, arguing that the defendants in the case were thwarting its efforts to license the technology addressed in the patents, and urged the court to deny the stay. As of publication, the District Court has not acted on the stay request.
August 16, 2012: Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin continue running License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements, also on Sept. 1 and 16. Stations in Iowa and Missouri continue running License Renewal Pre-Filing Announcements, also on Sept. 1 and 16.
Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.