FCC wants cold hard cash from Ham Radio Operators

Posted on by K0LWC

Ham radio operators have enjoyed a cheap pathway into the hobby for decades, but that may soon come to an end if the Federal Communications Commission gets their way. The FCC is proposing a $50 fee for applications submitted to the agency by amateur radio operators.

The new fee being considered for amateur radio operators stems from the “Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act” of 2018 — often called the “Ray Baum’s Act.” It was a Republican bill introduced and passed through Congress in 2018 and signed by President Donald Trump. The bill was a grab bag of provisions dealing with a wide variety of wireless issues. Buried deep in the bill is a nudge for the FCC to begin collecting more fees from those who use the wireless spectrum.

“(a) General Authority; Establishment Of Schedule.—The Commission shall assess and collect application fees at such rates as the Commission shall establish in a schedule of application fees to recover the costs of the Commission to process applications.

Section 8, of the Ray Baum’s Act

What this means if the FCC says each time you file an application with them they believe it costs them $50 worth of labor to process your application. They no longer want to use Congressional funds from the U.S. taxpayer to cover this work, they want amateur radio operators to pay their own way.

The Act requires that the FCC switch from a Congressionally-mandated fee structure to a cost-based system of assessment. In its NPRM, 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 that had been excluded by an earlier statute. The new statute excludes the Amateur Service from annual regulatory fees, but not from application fees.

FCC Proposes to Reinstate Amateur Radio Service Fees, ARRL 8/28/2020

This means that all ham radio operators would be assessed a $50 fee every time you:

  • First become a licensed ham radio operator
  • Upgrade your license (general, extra, etc.)
  • Apply for a vanity call sign
  • Renew your license

The proposed fee structure for GMRS and ham radio

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) licensees were paying $70 for filing applications. Under the new proposal, their costs would decrease to $50. This means GMRS and amateur radio would be paying identical fees. See chart below.

Type of Personal Licensing ApplicationCurrent Fee for General Mobile Radio ServiceCost-based Fee Proposed for GMRS and Amateur Radio
New license, modification$70$50
Minor modificationn/a$50
Special temporary authority$70$135
Rule waiver$210$50

What does this mean for new ham radio operators?

What about the new ham radio operators we’re trying to attract? How much more money can they expect to pay over the first ten years if the proposal is implemented? Let’s take a look below. (Note: The $40 under new license assumes a $15 testing fee and $25 for study materials)

ActionCurrent CostsProposed Fee Structure + Testing Costs
New license$40$65
Upgrade to General Class license$15$65
Apply for vanity callsign$0$50
Renew license (10 year)$0$50
Total Cost$55$230

Yes, a nearly 300% increase in cost given this typical scenario for new ham radio operators in their first ten years. Hey, that’s a lot of Baofeng radios!

How you can make your voice heard

This is merely a proposal and the FCC wants to hear feedback. Make sure to take 10 minutes and make your voice heard. Deadlines for comments and reply comments will be determined once the NPRM appears in the Federal Register. You can file comments by using the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), posting to MD Docket No. 20-270.

FCC suggested new Fees for Hams