11th-hour plan plugs blanket FCC user fee

Broadcasters, cable TV operators and other industries regulated by the FCC would be hit with new federal user fees under an 11th-hour fundraising scheme added to President Clinton’s budget reconciliation package.

D.C. sources said the proposal — which is designed to raise between $ 95 million and $ 100 million annually — was hatched over the weekend by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.).

Details of the Dingell-Hollings plan were not being divulged by staff members , perhaps in part to ward off massive lobbying campaigns that have nixed such proposals in the past. A Hollings aide said merely that the FCC user fee proposal “very likely” will be included in the Clinton budget plan.

A close congressional vote is expected on the Clinton budget package by week’s end, meaning the only way for the user fee concept to be killed is for lawmakers to torpedo the entire budget plan.

Sources said most cable operators would face new annual fees of $ 300 per every 1,000 subscribers under the plan. Small, independently owned cablers would be required to fork over $ 65 per 1,000 subscribers.

The price tag for broadcasters would vary according to the size of the station. The fees would range from $ 200 per year for the smallest AM radio stations to $ 18,000 annually for the largest VHF TV stations.

All commercial industries regulated by the FCC — including telephone companies, cellular telephone providers and “wireless” cable operators — would be subjected to the new fee proposal.

Direct FCC funding

The coin raised by the plan would apparently go directly to the FCC, while the allocation to the FCC from the U.S. Treasury would drop by a corresponding amount.

National Assn. of Broadcasters spokeswoman Lynn McReynolds said NAB “has consistently opposed fees of this sort since they don’t take into account the amount of ‘cost of service’ fees that broadcasters already pay.” McReynolds claimed the FCC “already receives $ 41 million a year from industries from the cost of regulation.”

National Cable Television Assn. spokeswoman Peggy Laramie said she could not comment on the proposal “until we see the specifics.”

In recent years, Dingell has been a strong proponent of forcing industries regulated by the FCC to bankroll the cost of regulation.

Dingell pledge

Hollings, who previously opposed the idea, signed on to the Dingell plan after receiving a pledge from Dingell not to interfere with a Hollings pet project involving FCC regulation of long-distance telephone company tariffs, per a D.C. source.

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