Tower Rules Update

September 20, 2014


The FCC took additional steps to clean up the underbrush surrounding its tower structure registration rules. None of the revisions are revolutionary, but most of the changes will make it easier to own and operate on communications towers by eliminating outdated and inconsistent rules, and providing additional guidance to tower owners.

Antenna Structure Marking and Lighting Specifications – The current version of the FCC''s rules require compliance with FAA Advisory Circulars that were released in 1995 and 1996. While the FCC''s rules indicate that the FAA''s requirements for tower marking and lighting are mandatory, the FCC also reserves the right to make additional or different requirements. The individual tower''s marking and lighting requirements are also specified on the “No Hazard” determination issued by the FAA when it gives authorization to construct a tower.

Since the reference to advisories printed nearly 20 years ago might be problematic, the FCC modified its rules to require compliance with the tower''s No Hazard letter instead. As a result, a tower owner will be able to review its own authorization, rather than tracking down an advisor circular to ensure compliance.

The FCC retained the right impose additional or different requirements, and tower owners will still be required to obtain authorization from both the FAA and the FCC before it makes changes to its tower marking and lighting. Moreover, while the FCC will not apply the revised rules to existing antenna structures unless the FAA requires such changes to a specific tower, it reserved the right to make future changes mandated by the FAA for particular structures.

Accuracy of Height and Location Data – In the past, any alteration to an existing structure was required to receive prior FAA and FCC approval due to the lack of clear language in the FCC''s rules. Therefore, the FCC took the opportunity to clarify that only changes or corrections that are one foot or greater in height, or one second or greater in location, will require prior authorization.

Notification of Construction or Dismantlement – Previously, the FCC required tower owners to notify the FCC of any modification or dismantlement of a tower within 24 hours, whereas the FAA required notice within five days. Under the new rules, the FCC accepted comments that the notification procedures among the two agency should be harmonized, and will require notification within the 5-day period currently in place at the FAA.

Voluntary Antenna Structure Registration – Under the FCC''s environmental rules, towers may need to registered with the FCC''s Antenna Structure Registration system even if it was otherwise exempt from registration due to its height or location in close proximity to an airport. Because it was unclear why these towers were registered, the FCC will now provide an option for tower owners to indicate that the tower was being registered on a voluntary basis.

Posting of Antenna Structure Registration – In the past, it was unclear whether the posting of an ASR number should be when the tower was within an enclosed perimeter fence. The FCC clarified that the posting of tower structure registration numbers should be posted at the closest access point to the tower, which may be on the perimeter fence or access gate. If more than one tower is enclosed within the same perimeter fence, then the ASR number must be posted at the access gate and at the base of the tower.

Provision of Antenna Structure Registration to Tenants – Dusting away a relic of the past, the FCC eliminated the requirement that a paper copy of the ASR be provided to tenants. Instead, the FCC will permit the provisioning of the ASR number via paper mail or email.

Inspection of Structure Lights and Associated Control Equipment - Perhaps one of the more significant changes for owners of towers in a number of different locations, the FCC will permit tower owners that have constructed self-notification systems, which incorporate self-diagnostic systems, 24-hour staffing, and back-up operations centers, to avoid the requirement of quarterly inspections. If a tower owner has these protections in place, but had not previously received a waiver of the quarterly inspection rule, it can notify the FCC and provide supporting information regarding its system. Otherwise, when a tower owner implements a new system, it can notify the FCC and seek an exemption from the inspection rule.

Notification of Extinguishment or Improper Functioning of Lights – The FCC also strengthened the obligation to keep the FAA informed of tower lighting malfunctions, requiring that timely notices are provided to the FAA, and delivered to the FAA in a manner specified by the FAA. The current rule permitted notices to be provided by telegraph, a pointed highlighted by Commission Pai

Recordkeeping Requirements - The FCC will require tower owners to maintain records of extinguishments or improper functioning of tower lights for two years, and provide the records to the FCC upon request.

While none of these rules break new ground, the FCC''s main goal was to take steps to eliminate outdated rules and harmonize the current rules with the FCC. While some of the new rules will become effective 30 days after the rules are published in the Federal Register, some rules require new or modified information collection requirements, so those will need to get the OMB stamp of approval first.


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