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.

A $7000 fine was imposed on a tower owner in another case, where the FCC found three AM towers, two without fences at all, and one with fences in bad condition that allowed easy access to the tower. While the owner claimed that there was a local flood that damaged the fences, the FCC said that there was no evidence at the site of any recent flood, and even if a flood had damaged the one fence, it didn’t see how the fences around the other two towers would have entirely disappeared. The FCC also rejected arguments that the site was not accessible to the public as there was a steep cliff on one side of the towers, and water on the other. The FCC noted that, while these obstructions were on the sides of the towers, the FCC inspector had no trouble driving up to the towers from the front. Plus, even if there was a gate blocking that access (as claimed by the owner, but not found by the FCC inspector), the fact that the site could be accessed by boat made is sufficiently accessible that a fence should surround areas of high RF radiation.

Another $7000 fine was proposed for another AM licensee where the FCC found the fence around the transmission tower to have fallen in one section. Even though the licensee claimed that it had been damaged and temporarily repaired about 3 months before, as the temporary repairs had not lasted, the FCC did not excuse the violation. The FCC also rejected an argument that a larger perimeter fence obviated the need for the fence around the base of the tower. Had that outer fence secured the property, that might have been sufficient, but the FCC found the outer fence to have an unlocked, open gate, and at least one section of that fence had also had fallen, allowing easy access.

In a fourth decision, the FCC fined a tower owner $10,000 for having the top light out on its tower, and not promptly notifying the FAA of the light being out. The FCC rules require that the FAA be notified whenever lights are out for more than 30 minutes. Here, the FCC found the lights out in mid-August, notified the owner of the issue, which the owner repaired at the end of September. But, according to the decision, the FAA was not notified about the issue until after the repairs had been made.

Four decisions and almost $50,000 in fines. Tower issues are among the issues of most concern to the FCC, given the potential for personal injury and the threats to public safety. These issues are not new - we wrote about a number of similar decisions just a few months ago.  Keep those tower sites fenced, lights lit, towers painted and identified, and their ownership properly registered or face big fines from the FCC.