tower fencing requirements

A flurry of fines against broadcasters have come out of the FCC in the last week.  These fines highlight the scrutiny under which owners of broadcast stations can find themselves should an FCC Field Office inspector knock on their door.  If the FCC pays a visit and finds a violation, a station is often looking at a fine even if it quickly takes corrective action.  Let’s look at some of these fines and the issues raised by each.

First, a Regional Director of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau yesterday released a $17,000 Forfeiture Order (a notice of a fine) to a Michigan AM broadcaster for having a fence around its tower that had “separated” allowing unfettered access to the site and for missing quarterly issues programs lists in the public file.  The FCC refused to lower the fine, despite the licensee’s arguments that the quarterly issues programs lists were in fact at the station but there was “confusion” as to where they were at the time of the inspection, and its argument that it should not be responsible for the fencing issue as it did not itself own the real estate or the towers.
Continue Reading FCC Fines: $17,000 for Unsecure AM Tower Fence (Not Owning the Tower Site is No Excuse); $25,000 for Missing Quarterly Issues Programs Lists; $22,000 for Nonfunctioning EAS and Wrong Tower Coordinates

Failing to properly maintain a communications tower can be expensive, as a number of FCC decisions released in the last few days demonstrate. In several decisions reached in the last week, the Commission faulted tower owners for all sorts of problems – tower lights being out without letting the FAA know, faded paint, missing fencing around an AM tower, tower registrations that had not been updated after a sale, and the failure to post the tower Antenna Survey Registration Number (“ASRN”) at the base of the tower so that the FCC could identify the tower owner. These cases provide a survey of the many issues that tower owners can have – ones that can bring big FCC fines.

In the case with the largest proposed fine – $25,000 – the FCC faulted a tower owner for having a tower with faded paint and no posted ASRN that was visible at the base of the tower. In addition, the FCC tower registration had not been updated to reflect the name of the current tower owner – even though the owner had bought the tower 10 years before. After an FCC inspection identifying the issues, the licensee promised that they would be remedied. But, according to the decision, two more inspections were made by FCC inspectors within 15 months of the first inspection, and the problems all remained. The failure to correct the errors after being repeatedly warned brought about a $10,000 increase in the fine from what would be normally warrant a penalty of approximately $15,000. Clearly, if the FCC tells you something is wrong – fix it, or face increased liability for the problems. The FCC does not like to be ignored.


Continue Reading FCC Fines Up to $25,000 for Tower Issues Including Lighting and Painting Issues, Inadequate Fencing, Tower Registration in Wrong Name and No Posted ASRN

Last week, I did a presentation on the issues facing broadcasters at the Kansas Association of Broadcasters annual convention (a copy of the slides from my presentation is available here).  I spoke about some of the day-to-day issues that can get broadcasters into trouble, as well as some of the big policy issues that broadcasters need to consider.  My presentation was preceded by a session conducted by the agent in charge of the Kansas City field office of the FCC, who emphasized the many issues that the field agents discover at broadcast stations that can lead to fines.  In the week since I returned from Kansas, it seems like the FCC has wanted to demonstrate the examples given by their agent, as there have been a large number of fines demonstrating the breadth of technical issues that broadcasters can face.  Fines (or "forfeitures", as the FCC calls them) were issued or proposed for issues ranging from faded tower paint, tower light outages, EAS problems, operations with excess power, and the ubiquitous (and very costly) public file violations.  Fines of up to $25,000 were issued for these violations – demonstrating how important it is not to overlook the day-to-day compliance matters highlighted in my presentation.

The largest of these fines was for $25,000.  This fine was imposed on a station for failing to have operational EAS equipment, not having an enclosed fence around the antenna site, and a missing public file.  The fine was originally proposed in a Notice of Apparent Liability (the first step in imposing an FCC fine, when the FCC spells out the apparent violation and the fine proposed, and the licensee is given time to respond to the allegations), released in July (see our post here).  The licensee failed to respond to the Notice of Apparent Liability, thus the fine is now being officially imposed.


Continue Reading A Host of FCC Fines of Over $20,000 for Technical and Tower Issues – And a Presentation on How to Avoid FCC Problems to the Kansas Broadcasters

If a broadcaster is looking to maximize the fine that they receive for FCC violations, one would be hard pressed to pick three violations more likely to draw the ire of the FCC than those that were found after a field inspection of a North Carolina AM station, leading to a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing to fine the station $25,000.  The inspection found a tower site with an unlocked fence (a fence which was also observed to be in disrepair) around areas of high RF radiation, and no evidence of either an EAS receiver or a public file at the station’s main studio.  In the FCC’s estimation, that public file violation was the most serious, warranting a $10,000 fine.  Those pesky violations that could lead to actual harm to real people if someone wandered onto the tower site or if an emergency message did not reach its intended audience – drew fines of $7000 (for the unlocked fence) and $8000 (for the missing EAS receiver). 

A number of excuses were provided by the licensee, and rejected by the Commission.  The fact that subsequent remedial actions were taken did not reduce the severity of the violations found during the inspection.  An excuse offered after the inspection, that the studio was in the process of being moved to another location at the time of the inspection, meaning that the public file and EAS system were in transit, was also rejected – as the move was not mentioned to the FCC inspectors as a reason for the violation at the time of the inspection, and as the fact was that the station was in violation at the time of the inspection – during normal business hours, no public file or EAS equipment was at what was then the main studio.  The fact that no EAS outage were noted on any station log was also taken into account by the FCC.


Continue Reading $25,000 Fine for Unlocked Tower Fence and Missing EAS Receiver and Public File

Three recent FCC cases demonstrate how seriously the FCC views tower site issues – imposing fines up to $14,000 for various violations of FCC rules.  One $14,000 fine was in a case where an AM station’s tower was enclosed by a fence that was falling down and did not enclose areas of high RF radiation as required by Section 73.49 of the rules.  The station also had a main studio that was unattended on two successive days, and had no one answering the phone on those days – no one to respond to the FCC’s calls.  The FCC broke the fine down as $7000 due to the lack of fencing, and $7000 to the unattended main studio.

In the second case, the FCC, the FCC fined a station $10,000 for areas of high RF radiation that were not fenced or marked by signs when the FCC conducted its inspection, and $4000 for operating overpower.  The Commission measured the overpower operation on one day, inferred that it had been in place the previous day, and thus deemed the violation repeated.  The Commission found that the station’s tower was fenced, but that there was high RF outside the fence, leading to the fine.  The third case was one where the Commission found that the top flashing beacon on a tower was out on two successive days, even though the required steady lit obstruction lights on the side of the tower were operational.  While the licensee notified the FAA of the outage three days later (with no noted prompting from the FCC), and had the situation corrected two days after notifying the FAA, the Commission also determined that the the violation was repeated and willful, leading to a $10,000 fine.


Continue Reading Tower Lights Out, High RF Radiation, Insufficient Transmitter Site Fences – FCC Fines Up to $14,000

Earlier this week, I posted a Top Ten list of legal issues that should keep a broadcast station operator up at night.  In two orders released today, the FCC found stations where these issues apparently had not been keeping their operators awake, as the FCC issued fines for numerous violations.  At one station, the FCC found that the EAS monitor was not working, the fence around the AM tower site was unlocked, and the station had no public inspection file, resulting in a $5500 fine (see the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau order here).  At another station, the FCC inspectors were told that the station had no public file, and they also found the AM tower site fence unlocked, resulting in a $3500 fine (see the order here).  These cases are one more example that, while broadcasters have plenty of big-picture legal and policy issues that they need to be concerned about, they also need to worry about the nuts and bolts, as the failure to observe basic regulatory requirements like tower fencing, EAS, and public file requirements can bring immediate financial penalties to a station. 

The tower fencing issue is one that we have written about before.  FCC rules require that public access be restricted to areas of high RF radiation, which are likely to occur at ground levels near AM stations.  The FCC has many times issued fines for fences with unlocked gates, holes, or areas where there are gullies where a child could climb under the fence into the tower area.  The FCC has been  unwilling to accept excuses that the fence was locked "yesterday" or "last week" or at some other less defined time in the absence of proof, as they’ve heard that excuse many time.  If the fence is open when they arrive, expect a fine.


Continue Reading Non-Functioning EAS, An Unavailable Public File and Open Tower Site Gates Result in FCC Fines of $5500 and $3500

Last week, we wrote about the FCC fining stations for a number of violations found at the studios of some broadcast stations.  In these same cases, the FCC also found a number of technical violations at the tower sites of some of the same stations.  Issues for which fines were issued included the failure to have an locked fence around an AM station’s tower, the failure of stations to be operating at the power for which they were authorized, and the failure to have a station’s Studio Transmitter Link operating on its licensed frequency.

An issue found in two case was the failure to operate at the power specified on the station’s license.  In one case, an AM station simply seemed to not be switching to its nighttime power – in other words, at sunset, it was not reducing power from the power authorized for its daytime operations.  The second case was one where another AM station was not switching to its nighttime antenna pattern after dark.  In that case, there were apparently issues with the nighttime antenna but, rather than request special temporary authority from the FCC to operate with reduced power until the problem was fixed, the FCC notes that the station apparently just kept operating with its daytime power.  An STA is not difficult to obtain when there is a technical issue (as the FCC does not want stations going dark if it can be avoided), and some effort is made to specify a power that avoids interference to other stations.  So, if faced with technical problems, request authority for operations that are different from those authorized by the station’s license until those problems can be fixed, or risk a fine from the Commission.


Continue Reading FCC Inspections – Transmission Site Fines for Overpower Operation, Unlocked Tower Fences, and Improper STL Operations

The FCC last week considered two requests for reconsideration of fines issued to broadcasters for violations of FCC rules relating to their broadcast towers.  While the FCC reduced one fine because of the licensee’s inability to pay the amount originally specified, both broadcasters will have to make payments to the Commission because of their failures to meet the FCC’s rules regarding the ownership of broadcast towers.  These cases remind broadcasters of their obligations to meet the Commission’s tower rules, and should cause all broadcasters to check their compliance. 

In the first case, the FCC reduced the fine of a licensee who had failed to fence its AM station’s tower, but only because the licensee proved that it could not pay a higher fine.  But a $500 fine was still imposed as the owner had no fence around a series-fed AM tower.  The FCC pointed out that its rules require that any AM tower that has the potential for an RF radiation hazard at the base of the tower must be fenced. This station had violated that rule.


Continue Reading Fines for Tower Violations Remind Broadcasters to Mind FCC Rules