tower lighting requirements

The FCC this week published a Small Business Compliance Guide for companies looking to take advantage of the FCC’s elimination of the main studio rules and the studio staffing requirements associated with those rules (see our articles here and here summarizing the rule changes). The Compliance Guide points out that stations looking to eliminate their main studios still must maintain a local toll-free telephone number where residents of the community served by the station can call to ask questions or provide information to the licensee. The Guide also references the requirement that access to the public file must be maintained. While, by March 1, all broadcast stations (unless they have obtained a waiver) will have their public files online (see our article here), it is possible that some stations may have a remnant of their file still in paper even after the conversion date. “Old political documents” (documents dealing with advertising sales to candidates, other candidate “uses,” and issue advertising) that were created before the date that a station activates its online file for public viewing need not be uploaded but can be kept in a paper file for the relevant holding period (generally two years). If the station decides not to upload those old political documents, or closes its main studio before they have gone live with their online public file, they will need to maintain a paper file in their community of license. The Guide also mentions how Class A TV stations, which are required to show that they originate programming from their local service area, will be treated since they will no longer have a legally mandated main studio. But are there questions that the Guide does not address?

We think that there are, and that broadcasters who are considering doing away with their main studio need to consider numerous other matters. First, and most importantly, the obligation for a station to serve its local community with public interest programming remains on the books. So stations need to be sure that they are staying in touch with the local issues facing their communities, and they need to address those issues in their local programming. Addressing these issues needs to be documented in Quarterly Issues Programs lists which are the only legally-mandated documents that demonstrate how a station has served its community. There are other issues to consider as well.
Continue Reading What Issues Should Broadcasters be Considering When Taking Advantage of New Rules Abolishing Main Studio and Staffing Requirements?

In a Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC proposed a $14,000 fine on a broadcaster for a series of violations with respect to its tower. The FCC found that the station failed to have the required lights on the tower operating after sunset on at least two days, failed to notify the FAA of the outage (so that the FAA could send out a NOTAM – a notice to "airmen" notifying them to beware of the unlit tower), and failed to properly register the tower when the current owner acquired the station from its previous owner. As the tower had been sold over 3 years prior to the inspection that discovered the tower lights being out, the FCC determined that the violations were particularly egregious, and upped the fine – which would have been $10,000 for a failure to have the lights operating, and $3000 for failing to update the Antenna Structure Registration ("ASR") by an additional $1000. As noted below, updating tower registrations is considered very important by the FCC as, in another recent decision, the FCC proposed a $6000 fine merely for the failure of a licensee to update a tower registration. 

The case also showed the importance of keeping accurate records of the observation of tower lights. While the FCC did not specifically fine the station owner for not logging the tower light inspections, it did note that there was confusion between the station owner and engineer as to who was inspecting the tower lights and how often they were being inspected, when first asked by the FCC inspector. While records were later provided by the licensee that supposedly showed that the tower lights were inspected on a daily basis, the records were inconsistent and seemed to contradict the observations of the FCC inspectors. What do the rules require?


Continue Reading $14,000 FCC Fine for Tower Violations – Obstruction Light Out, No FAA Notification and Failure to Update Antenna Survey Registration to Report New Owner

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

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

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

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.


Continue Reading FCC Decisions Making the Life of a Tower Owner Easier – Easing Approval for Automatic Monitoring, and Making Clear that RF Radiation Standards Are Not Arbitrary

In yet another example of the importance that the FCC places on emergency communications and safety issues, an FCC Enforcement Bureau District Field Office issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, proposing to fine a radio station $25,000 for violations including an EAS system that was not operational, as well as a tower that needed repainting and with lights that were not functioning properly.  Together with various other issues – including missing quarterly issues programs lists – the FCC found that a $25,000 fine was appropriate.  This is another in a series of recent notices of apparent liability from FCC District Offices, demonstrating the high cost of noncompliance with technical and operational issues at broadcast stations.

On the tower issues, the FCC found that the tower lights, which were required to be flashing, were in either not operational at all or not flashing, and that the licensee admitted that no visual inspection of the lights had occurred in at least a week.  Citing Section 17.47 of the FCC rules, which require a visual inspection of tower lights every 24 hours unless there is an automatic inspection system (which was not present at this tower), the FCC found that there was a violation here.  In addition, the inspection revealed that the tower paint was faded and, in some places, had peeled to reveal bare steel, as the tower had not been painted since 1996.  Towers must be cleaned and painted "as often as necessary to maintain good visibility" under Section 17.50 of the FCC Rules.  The failure of the tower owner to monitor the tower lights resulted in a $2000 fine, and a $10,000 fine was imposed for the failure to repaint the tower.


Continue Reading $25,000 FCC Fine for Safety Related Issues – No EAS, Tower With Painting and Lighting Issues

The FCC recently released a decision granting two waivers of its requirement that any communications tower which has lighting requirements and is registered with the FCC be visually inspected at least quarterly to insure that all of the required lights are working. The waivers were granted to American Tower Corporation and Global Signal, Inc., both operators of