Yesterday, Public Knowledge joined the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition in filing comments with the Federal Communications Commission in response to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on regulatory fees for 2021. The filing outlines why the Commission should reject its flawed and confusing proposal to require unlicensed spectrum users to pay regulatory fees.
The Communications Act requires the FCC to annually assess regulatory fees on those it regulates to offset the cost of operating the agency. Congress sets the FCC’s budget annually, which then triggers the assessment and collection of regulatory fees. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has repeatedly asked the FCC to assess fees against “users of unlicensed spectrum,” or at least “Big Tech,” as doing so, it asserts, would spread the fees across a larger group of payors, reducing the fees paid by broadcasters and others. As part of the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to assess the 2022 Regulatory Fees, the FCC — for the first time — explicitly seeks comment on this proposal.
“Unlicensed spectrum” is used by practically every consumer and industry for Wi-Fi routers, Bluetooth-enabled devices (like fitness trackers and portable speakers), baby monitors, garage door openers, and any other device that does not require an express, exclusive license from the FCC to operate. A regulatory fee assessed on “unlicensed spectrum users” would mean a fee on users of any Wi-Fi and other unlicensed-enabled devices.
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“The proposal by the NAB to require users of unlicensed spectrum — or some undefined category the NAB refers to as ‘Big Tech’ or “large technology companies” — would be a disaster for the public and a nightmare to try and administer. Everybody uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Everybody owns TV remotes, garage door openers, car fobs, or other devices that use unlicensed spectrum. Even if the law permitted such a fee, the FCC would spend more money trying to collect from everyone who uses Wi-Fi than it could possibly earn.
“Trying to limit this to ‘large technology companies’ doesn’t help. Every large company relies on Wi-Fi. Even broadcast networks like Disney, CBS, NBC, Fox, and Sinclair rely on Wi-Fi to stream their content in people’s homes. You can’t write a rule that says ‘get Google and Microsoft to pay, they can afford it and nobody likes them.’”
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