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

A recent FCC decision shows how important it is for an applicant for a construction permit for a new or modified broadcast station, which entails the construction of a new tower, to take all steps set out on the the environmental worksheets associated with FCC Form 301 before certifying that the tower will not create environmental issues.  In the recent case, the FCC did not find that any actual environmental issues existed with the applicant’s proposed construction of a new tower, but it nevertheless stated that it would have fined the applicant for a false certification if the statute of limitations for the fine had not passed.  Why?  Simply because the applicant had not touched all of the required bases before making its certification that the tower construction posed no threat to the environment.  The applicant had tried to argue that no environmental study was necessary as the site was a de facto tower farm given that there were already two towers nearby, but that claim was rejected by the FCC, finding that nearby towers do not necessarily constitute a tower farm.

The tower farm issue was interesting in that the applicant pointed to the fact that there were two existing towers within a couple hundred feet of his proposed tower, and thus the existence of these towers, plus the word that he received from local authorities that the site was a good one at which to build a site due to the lack of any perceived impacts, was not sufficient either to make the site a "tower farm" exempt from further environmental processing, nor was it sufficient to demonstrate that there was no need for further environmental study.  The FCC’s staff did a thorough review of the cases about what constitutes a tower farm and, while noting that there was no clear definition in the rules, found that the two nearby towers, as they were substantially shorter than the one proposed by the applicant, were not of the same "character" as that proposed by the applicant, and thus the site was not a tower farm.  Apparently, to some degree, the FCC adopted a "we’ll know it when we see it" approach to the definition of a tower farm, and concluded that they did not see it here.


Continue Reading When are a Bunch of Towers Really a Tower Farm – Only the FCC Knows for Sure

In these challenging economic times, it seems like almost every day we see a notice that a broadcast station has gone silent while the owner evaluates what to do with the facility.  This seems particularly common among AM stations – many of which have significant operating costs and, in recent times, often minimal revenues.  The DTV transition deadline (whenever that may be) may also result in a number of TV stations that don’t finish their DTV buildout in time being forced to go dark.  While these times may call for these economic measures to cut costs to preserve the operations of other stations that are bringing in revenue, broadcasters must remember that there are specific steps that must be taken at the FCC to avoid fines or other problems down the road.

One of the first issues to be addressed is the requirement that the FCC be informed of the fact that a station has gone silent.  Once a station has ceased operations for 10 days, a notice must be filed with the the FCC providing notification that the station is not operational.  If the station remains silent for 30 days, specific permission, in the form of a request for Special Temporary Authority to remain silent, must be sought from the FCC.  The rules refer to reasons beyond the control of the licensee as providing justification for the station being off the air.   Traditionally, the FCC has wanted a licensee to demonstrate that there has been a technical issue that has kept the station off the air.  The Commission was reluctant to accept financial concerns as providing justification for the station being silent – especially if there was no clear plan to sell the station or to promptly return it to the air.  Perhaps the current economic climate may cause the FCC to be more understanding – at least for some period of time.


Continue Reading Steps to Take When A Broadcast Station Goes Silent

The FCC last week issued an order fining a broadcast  tower owner $2000 for failure to monitor the lights on its tower.  The FCC requires that a tower owner either monitor the tower by visual inspection or by a properly installed automatic monitoring system, at least once every 24 hours.  In this case, the tower owner

In a recent decision, the FCC adopted new rules for AM station proofs of performance that make the process much simpler.  We wrote about this proposal when it was advanced, here.  The order adopted a week ago allows stations installing new series fed AM directional antennas to avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of

In a Consent Decree released this week, the Commission agreed to accept a "voluntary contribution" of $16,500 to the government from a tower owner, instead of a fine, for its failure to conduct an Historical Review of the locations of three towers prior to their construction.  Under the Nationwide Programmatic Agreement which implements the National Historic Preservation

The FCC today issued three orders imposing fines on broadcasters – cutting no slack to anyone.  These cases demonstrate how important strict compliance with all FCC rules is to avoid fines before the current Commission.  The first decision imposed a fine of $2800 on a broadcaster for having an unfenced tower – where the broadcaster claimed that the fence was temporarily removed to facilitate the clearing of brush as required by local authorities to remove a potential fire hazard.  While the FCC seemed to recognize that the fence removal was temporary, and that it was missing for only a few weeks while weed killer was being applied at the site, the Commission still imposed the fine – requiring that access to an AM tower always be restricted, prohibiting open access even for a short period.

The second case was a decision which imposed a fine of $2000 on a broadcaster for operating from an unauthorized transmitter site.  While the broadcaster had received Special Temporary Authority (an "STA")  to operate from the site, the STA expired.  The broadcaster filed an extension request, but forgot to include the filing fee check.  The broadcaster claims that he re-filed the request, and had a canceled check to prove it, although the Commission had no record of the re-filed STA (though the FCC did acknowledge having received the check).  Finding that it had no record of the re-filed STA, and further finding that the applicant should have inquired about the failure to receive an STA extension after 180 days (the length of an STA), the Commission imposed the fine on the broadcaster.  While this case is certainly complicated by the missing extension request, given the canceled check one would assume that broadcaster must have filed something, and the FCC’s usual rule is that if an STA extension is on file, the station can continue to operate.  Of course, with an extension that was pending for 2 years, probably some inquiry was warranted.  But whether it was a $2000 mistake is a different question.


Continue Reading FCC Cuts No Slack on Fines – Temporarily Unfenced Tower, Expired STA, Former Owner – All Draw Fines

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

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