ACA to FCC: Cable, DBS Should Have Regulatory Fee Parity

Dish, DirecTV say the two services should not be in same regulatory category

The American Cable Association gave the FCC credit for boosting DBS regulatory fees, but noted that cable operators were still paying 150% more per subscriber than satellite-TV providers -- 96 cents versus 38 cents -- under the FCC's proposed 2017 regulatory fee schedule.

Meanwhile DBS operators were crying foul over being lumped into the same regulatory category as cable operators. That came in comments -- due this week -- on the FCC's May proposal of new fees.

The FCC has been phasing in its decision of three years ago to start assessing per-subscriber fees on DBS operators, as it does on other MVPDs (it used to assess a much lower, per-license, fee), but the ACA suggested the agency needs to get the lead out.

It set the DBS fee at 12 cents per sub in 2015, then 27 cents in 2016, and now the proposed 38 cents.

"This increase brings cable and IPTV and DBS providers closer to regulatory parity," the ACA told the FCC this week, but "while appreciated, still results in Cable/IPTV providers paying $0.58 per subscriber more than DBS providers."

Fees are assessed according to how many FCC full time employees (FTEs) are required to oversee a particular service, in this case DBS and cable by the media bureau.

"Cable, IPTV and DBS providers impose similar burdens on the Media Bureau. It is inequitable to continue to assess fees in a manner that does not equitably distribute the regulatory fee burden among all MVPD payors," ACA said.

For its part, DBS operators Dish and DirecTV told the FCC in a joint filing that the increase from 12 cents to 38 was an unsupportable and "staggering 217% boost. "[T]he Commission has failed to explain how regulatory developments in the last year justify a dramatic rate increase for the third consecutive year," Dish and DirecTV parent AT&T told the commission.

They said there is evidence in the record that two DBS operators "have never generated, and do not generate now, anything approaching the regulatory costs that hundreds of cable operators do."