MD Docket 20–270 NPRM proposes $50.00 Application Fee for new, upgrade and renewals of amateur radio licenses

In an NPRM the FCC released on August 26th, 2020 the FCC has proposed a “nominal fee” of $50.00 for all amateur radio applications with the exception of administrative updates for things like mail and name changes which they contend is “in the public interest to encourage licensees to update their information without a charge.”

The NPRM states, “We note that, while the statute previously limited the Commission’s authority to charge fees only for specific services listed in the Act, the RAY BAUM’S Act now requires the Commission to collect fees from several previously uncharged services. As such, several services in the personal licenses category will be subject to new fees. One such example is Amateur Radio Service licenses, which were not listed on the fee schedule in section 8 of the Act, but are now subject to fees under the broader mandate of the RAY BAUM’s Act.”

However, it’s not necessarily true that a fee is required for Amateur licenses (or for that matter some other radio services licenses, but the focus of this article shall remain on Amateur). The RAY BAUM’s act has a few caveats. 47 U.S.C. §158(d)(2) provides:

“(2) COST OF COLLECTION. — If, in the judgment of the Commission, the cost of collecting an application fee established under this section would exceed the amount collected, the Commission may by rule eliminate such fee.

This is similar to how the FCC stopped charging for vanity applications citing “The Commission spends more resources on processing the regulatory fees and issuing refunds than the amount of the regulatory fee payment,” the FCC said. “As our costs now exceed the regulatory fee, we are eliminating this regulatory fee category.” Ironically, this new NPRM now proposes a $50 fee for vanity applications.

However, 47 U.S.C. §158(d)(1)(c) further provides:

“(d) Exceptions. —

“(1) PARTIES TO WHICH FEES ARE NOT APPLICABLE. — The application fees established under this section shall not be applicable to —

“(A) a governmental entity;

“(B) a nonprofit entity licensed in the Local Government, Police, Fire, Highway Maintenance, Forestry-Conservation, Public Safety, or Special Emergency Radio radio services; or

“(c) a noncommercial radio station or noncommercial television station.

The term “noncommercial radio station” (or noncommercial television station for that matter) is not specifically defined by Congress or in the statutes. It does also appear as an exception for regulatory fees 47 U.S.C. §159(e)(1)(C), however this statute also explicitly mentions Amateur radio is exempt from regulatory fees under 47 U.S.C. §159(e)(1)(B), ostensibly the Commission or others may argue that since Congress specifically called out Amateur radio in one part, but not the other that amateur radio is therefore not specifically exempt form application fees. But let’s examine this.

The FCC’s NPRM itself notes on page 60:

B. Exemptions

220. Among the changes made by the RAY BAUM’s Act is the inclusion of noncommercial radio station and television station licensees as statutorily exempt from fees.187

The NPRM also notes on page 9:

b. Personal Licenses

24. Personal license services include Amateur Radio Service (used for recreational, noncommercial radio services)

As previously stated, the term “noncommercial radio station” is undefined, however the term “radio station” itself is defined under 47 U.S.C. §153(42) as:

(42)Radio station

The term radio station or “station” means a station equipped to engage in radio communication or radio transmission of energy.

Also defined is the term “Amateur Station.” at 47 U.S.C. §153(3) as:

(3)Amateur station

The term amateur station means a radio station operated by a duly authorized person interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

This alone squarely shows amateur radio stations are noncommercial radio stations and thus should be exempt. But if that wasn’t convincing enough, let’s turn to part 97, in fact let’s turn to the very first section in part 97, 47 C.F.R §97.1 which states:

§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

I emphasize not only the noncommercial nature here of Amateur radio which clearly shows it should be exempt, but also the fact that the purpose is providing emergency communications, because it appears Congress also intended all types of emergency communications to be exempted which may be why in one place they have (B) listing Amateur radio as specifically exempt from regulatory fees, while in the application section (B) has omitted amateur radio with the following in its place:

(B)

a nonprofit entity licensed in the Local Government, Police, Fire, Highway Maintenance, Forestry-Conservation, Public Safety, or Special Emergency Radio radio services; or

It should be noted, at least as far as I can tell, Special Emergency Radio Services(SERS) hasn’t existed for about 2 decades, according to an ARRL article from 2010, it had at that time already been replaced by Part 90 — 10 years prior — from the article:

Even the FCC itself no longer uses the term “emergency radio service.” There was once a Special Emergency Radio Service (SERS) but it disappeared a decade ago in a consolidation of Private Land Mobile Radio services. SERS spectrum is now part of the Public Safety Pool.

Perhaps then, Congress left out Amateur Radio from the Application fee’s section in the RAY BAUM’s act in favor of broader terms which it had supposed covered Amateur radio. Apparently, the FCC thinks not. I encourage you to leave public comment on this matter by going to https://fcc.gov/ecfs/filings under proceedings type 20–270, also note you have to type ENTER after your name for it to actually add your name (See screenshot below):