Budget Proposes Broadcast User Fees

Legislative proposal to levy fees on non-auctioned spectrum requires Congressional approval

Like swallows returning to Capistrano or Puxatony Phil exiting his hole each February, user fees have appeared in the President's 2009 budget, whose outlines were released Thursday by OMB.

The return of the proposed fees had to be divined from a single line in a chart with figures assigned to "spectrum license user fee," as budget offsets.

Each year, the budget has a proposal to levy a fee on non-auctioned spectrum, including broadcasters and presumably cable's satellite licenses. But it is a legislative proposal and requires Congress to approve it.

To date, no Congress has done so, but at time of ballooning deficits, nothing is a sure thing in Washington.

The current proposal sets the total fees collected from un-auctioned spectrum licenses at $50 million in 2009, jumping to $200 million in 2010, $300M in 2011, $425M in 2012, to $550m in 2013 through 2019, for a total projected take of $4.7 billion.

"It is unclear what the exact proposal would mean to broadcasters," said NAB VP Dennis Wharton. The FCC was in the same position, with a spokesman saying it would get more information when the full budget was released in the spring.