A few weeks ago, we wrote about several recent cases where tower owners were fined for not having their towers lights working in the manner that was required by their licenses.  In another case released this week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau decided that a $20,000 fine was appropriate for a tower owner in Alaska

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

Fines for broadcast station tower owners who fail to maintain the required lighting on their tower are not unusual. But in a decision last week, the FCC made clear that, even if the licensee of a broadcast station is not the tower owner, it still has the responsibility for dealing with tower lights that are out, even if the tower owner does not. The failure of the licensee to maintain the tower lights, and other related issues, resulted in an $11,000 fine issued by the FCC.

The case was unusual in that the broadcast licensee, and the company from which it bought the station, were arguing over who owned the tower – not contending that the each owned the tower, but instead each pointing to the other as the one with the responsibility for the maintenance of the tower. The former owner of the station maintained ownership of the underlying land, but claimed that the tower was conveyed to the new station owner. The licensee claimed that the tower was still owned by the former owner, and that former owner should be responsible for the tower lights. The FCC reviewed the contract between the two parties, seemed to conclude that the licensee had in fact acquired the tower, but said that the final determination on that issue was one for local courts, not the FCC.  But even if the licensee did not own the tower, it still had the responsibility for the tower as licensees have the responsibility to insure that the tower lighting requirements in their licenses are met. This obligation is set out in Section 17.6 of the Commission’s rules and in various policy statements.  Thus, no matter who owned the tower, the licensee was still subject to the fine for the lights not being operational.

Continue Reading $11,000 Fine for Broadcast Station Tower Light Outage – FCC Emphasizes the Responsibility of Licensee To Maintain Lights if Tower Owner Does Not

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

FCC tower lighting and marking violations are among those treated most seriously by the FCC, given their potential for tragedy should there be an incident with an aircraft due to improper tower maintenance.  Today, in two Notices of Apparent liability, the FCC proposed fines against tower owners for such violations.  In one case, where the

In two separate Orders today, the FCC issued monetary forfeitures against a cable operator for failure to install Emergency Alert System (EAS) equipment and for various tower violations.  These same violations could have been cited against a broadcaster, so these cases are instructive to both broadcasters and cable operators.  The FCC issued monetary forfeitures of $20,000 and $18,000 against two Texas cable systems owned by the same company.  In both cases, the cable operator failed to install EAS equipment, failed to notify the FAA of a tower lighting outage and failed to exhibit red obstruction tower lighting from sunset to sunrise.   The higher fine related to a system’s failure to display a tower’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) number "in a conspicuous place so that it is readily visible near the base of the antenna structure."  

These same requirements apply equally to broadcast stations that have their own towers.   While most broadcasters are aware of the requirement to maintain working EAS equipment, many may not know that  FCC rules require a tower’s ASR to be conspicuously displayed at the base of the tower.  To be compliant, the ASR must be displayed on a weather-resistant surface and of sufficient size to be easily seen at the base of the tower.

Continue Reading FCC Fines for No EAS Equipment, Unreported Tower Light Outage, and No Posting of ASR

In a recent decision, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau ruled that a tower owner should pay a fine for a single day where the required tower lights were not operational, and where no required monitoring of the tower to discover such outage was taking place.  On top of the penalty for the non-working lights, the FCC also fined the owner for the failure to report a change in ownership of the tower.  The total fine in the case was $4000 (reduced from an initial fine of $13,000 because of the tower owner’s past record of compliance).

As with any FCC fine, while the fine was for one day of tower light outage, there was more to the story.  The FCC inspected the tower after receiving a complaint stating that the lights were out on a day that was almost a month before the inspection – indicating that the outage may have been in place for far longer than the one day revealed by the FCC inspection.  The tower owner admitted that the person who was supposed to conduct the required daily inspection of the tower lights had moved from the area in which the tower was located, and the owner did not know exactly when that occurred.  The owner did not get someone new to do the inspection until after the FCC inspection.  And the tower had no automatic monitoring system to determine if the lights were in fact operational.  With these admissions, it seemed clear that there was the potential that there had been a problem for a long time, so perhaps the fine was not unexpected, even though the lights were fixed within hours of the FCC report of the problem, as the issue was a simple one that the tower owner blamed on a careless repair person who had recently visited the site.

Continue Reading Tower Lights Out for Even One Day? – Pay A Fine, Says the FCC