Operating a communications tower can always lead to issues, but two recent FCC decisions give tower owners some degree of relief. In one decision, the Commission’s Audio Services Division rejected a petition filed against the construction of new facilities for an AM station in Wasilla, Alaska – rejecting claims that the FCC’s RF radiation standards were not strict enough to protect local residents. In another case, the FCC determined that towers using an automatic system to monitor tower lighting – the “RMS system" – did not need to physically inspect the lights on the tower every quarter, as now required, but instead could do so annually, and set up an expedited system for approving tower owners who want to take advantage of this flexibility. 

The first case, dealing with RF radiation, may be dismissed by some as just a decision stating the obvious – that a station that complies with the FCC’s RF radiation standards should be allowed to be constructed. But it is not always so simple. We have had clients face situations in many areas around the country where local residents complained about a new broadcast facility – blaming it for everything from the failures of electronic equipment to the health problems of nearby residents. Various organizations have espoused theories that the FCC’s RF standards are insufficient to protect the public, and their theories are often publicized through the Internet. And sometimes, these complaints can be brought to local elected officials who, not wanting to anger local voters, try to make an issue out of what should be a fairly straightforward analysis.

The recent decision carefully sets out that the FCC’s RF standards are not some arbitrary standards adopted with no public or scientific justification. Instead, the standards were adopted, and later revised, based on scientific evidence provided by standard-setting organizations, and subject to public comment before they were adopted. As set forth in the decision, if there are parties who believe that there is data that suggests that that standards are wrong, they should petition the FCC to revise the standards, not try to apply some ad hoc standards to a specific broadcast station construction.

In the second decision, the FCC determined that certain systems that automatically monitor tower lighting are sufficiently reliable so as to do away with the need for a quarterly visual monitoring of every tower using these systems. We have written about previous waivers granted to particular tower operators based on similar technologies (though we have also written about an FCC decision that fined an owner when the monitoring system itself had failed). In this decision, the Commission stated that it would process expedited waivers of the monitoring requirements for towers using these systems if such waivers are filed at the Commission. These two decisions should make tower owner’s days just a little easier.