FCC Reduces Proposed Amateur Radio Application Fee to $35

12/30/2020

The FCC has agreed with ARRL and other commenters that its proposed $50 fee for certain amateur radio applications was “too high to account for the minimal staff involvement in these applications.” In a Report and Order (R&O), released on December 29, the FCC scaled back to $35 the fee for a new license application, a special temporary authority (STA) request, a rule waiver request, a license renewal application, and a vanity call sign application. All fees are per application. There will be no fee for administrative updates, such as a change of mailing or email address.

This fall, ARRL filed comments in firm opposition to the FCC proposal to impose a $50 fee on amateur radio license and application fees and urged its members to follow suit.

As the FCC noted in its R&O, although some commenters supported the proposed $50 fee as reasonable and fair, “ARRL and many individual commenters argued that there was no cost-based justification for application fees in the Amateur Radio Service.” The fee proposal was contained in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in MD Docket 20-270, which was adopted to implement portions of the “Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act” of 2018 — the so-called “Ray Baum’s Act.”

“After reviewing the record, including the extensive comments filed by amateur radio licensees and based on our revised analysis of the cost of processing mostly automated processes discussed in our methodology section, we adopt a $35 application fee, a lower application fee than the Commission proposed in the NPRM for personal licenses, in recognition of the fact that the application process is mostly automated,” the FCC said in the R&O. “We adopt the proposal from the NPRM to assess no additional application fee for minor modifications or administrative updates, which also are highly automated.”

The FCC said it received more than 197,000 personal license applications in 2019, which includes not only ham radio license applications but commercial radio operator licenses and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) licenses.

The FCC turned away the arguments of some commenters that the FCC should exempt amateur radio licensees. The FCC stated that it has no authority to create an exemption “where none presently exists.”

The FCC also disagreed with those who argued that amateur radio licensees should be exempt from fees because of their public service contribution during emergencies and disasters.

“[W]e we are very much aware of these laudable and important services amateur radio licensees provide to the American public,” the FCC said, but noted that specific exemptions provided under Section 8 of the so-called “Ray Baum’s Act” requiring the FCC to assess the fees do not apply to amateur radio personal licenses. “Emergency communications, for example, are voluntary and are not required by our rules,” the FCC noted. “As we have noted previously, ‘[w]hile the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communications service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications, is one of the underlying principles of the amateur service, the amateur service is not an emergency radio service.’”

The Act requires that the FCC switch from a Congressionally-mandated fee structure to a cost-based system of assessment. The FCC proposed application fees for a broad range of services that use the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS), including the Amateur Radio Service, which had been excluded previously. The 2018 statute excludes the Amateur Service from annual regulatory fees, but not from application fees.

“While the Ray Baum’s Act amended Section 9 and retained the regulatory fee exemption for amateur radio station licensees, Congress did not include a comparable exemption among the amendments it made to Section 8 of the Act,” the FCC R&O explained.

The effective date of the fee schedule has not been established, but it will be announced at least 30 days in advance. The FCC has directed the Office of Managing Director, in consultation with relevant offices and bureaus, to draft a notice for publication in the Federal Register announcing when rule change(s) will become effective, “once the relevant databases, guides, and internal procedures have been updated.”