If adopted, these proposed changes could benefit antenna structure owners by removing several outdated requirements and providing clearer guidelines.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has requested comment on numerous proposed revisions to its Part 17 rules regarding the construction, marking and lighting of antenna structures. Comments are due 60 days after Federal Register publication, which has not yet occurred, with reply comments due 90 days after Federal Register publication.

Impact and Recommendation

Under the FCC's rules, any proposed or existing antenna structure that requires notice of proposed construction or alteration to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must be registered with the FCC. The FCC typically incorporates the FAA's specifications for marking and lighting the antenna structure, and the structure owners are primarily responsible for ensuring compliance with these requirements, while tenant licensees are secondarily liable.

The FCC's proposed revisions would generally benefit antenna structure owners by removing several outdated and burdensome requirements and providing clearer guidelines to antenna structure owners. As discussed below in greater detail, the FCC proposes to eliminate or substantially reduce the requirement regarding quarterly inspections of automatic control systems associated with antenna structure lighting, clarify the rules regarding posting of Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) numbers, establish an objective standard for determining when an antenna structure must be cleaned or repainted, and allow antenna structure owners to notify tenants via e-mail instead of providing a paper copy of the ASR. Therefore, antenna structure owners may want to consider filing comments or reply comments in support of the proposed changes or to address any specific concerns about the potential impact of these proposals.

The FCC is seeking comment on the following proposed Part 17 rule changes:

Antenna Structure Registration and Marking and Lighting Specifications

Specification of Marking and Lighting

  • The FCC proposes revising Sections 17.21 through 17.23 to eliminate any references to the FAA's Advisory Circulars. The FCC would require antenna structure owners to conform to the FAA's marking and lighting recommendations set forth in the FAA's determination of no hazard and associated study for each new or altered structure, unless otherwise specified by the FCC.
  • The FCC states that cross-references in its rules to particular FAA Advisory Circulars, which may be outdated, are unnecessary and confusing. The FCC also notes that each antenna structure owner is clearly notified through the ASR process of the marking and lighting specifications that apply to a particular structure.
  • The FCC seeks comment on amending its rules to clarify that lighting and marking requirements will not change unless the FAA recommends new specifications for particular structures. The FCC is proposing this language to clarify that a revised FAA Advisory Circular does not impose new obligations upon already approved structures. The FCC also seeks comment on whether it may instead be preferable for the FCC to have the flexibility to apply any new FAA standards retroactively.
  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.4 to add a provision stating that the FAA's recommended specifications are generally mandatory, but that the FCC may specify additional or different requirements.
  • The FCC proposes revising Section 17.4 to indicate that no changes may be made to the lighting or marking specifications on the ASR without prior FAA and FCC approval.

Accuracy of Location and Height Data

  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.4 so that any change in height of an existing antenna structure of one foot or greater or any change in coordinates of one second or greater requires prior approval from the FAA and the FCC. The FCC states that although the rules currently require that alteration of an existing antenna structure requires a new registration, the rules do not define what constitutes an "alteration."
  • The FCC proposes that the height information provided on FCC Form 854 (ASR application) must be accurate within one foot and the coordinates provided on FCC Form 854 must be accurate within one second of longitude and latitude.
  • The FCC proposes that antenna structure owners must use the most accurate data available when reporting height information and site coordinates, such as current global positioning satellite (GPS) technology. The FCC also seeks comment on whether it should specify a particular survey method to determine the height information and site coordinates.

Structures Requiring FAA Notification

  • The FCC proposes deleting language in its rules about which antenna structures require notification to the FAA and to replace this language with cross-references to the relevant FAA rules. In particular, the FCC proposes deleting Sections 17.7 (antenna structures requiring notification to the FAA) and 17.14 (certain antenna structures exempt from notification to the FAA) and cross-referencing the relevant FAA rules in Section 17.4.

Pending FAA Rulemaking on Notice and Obstruction Standards

  • In 2006, the FAA proposed to expand its notification rules to require notice for any new or modified antenna structure that will support antennas used in certain frequency bands, including some used for land mobile, microwave, and multiple address system operations, and any modifications to a system operating in those frequency bands, including the addition of new frequencies, increases in effective radiated power (ERP) and certain antenna modifications. The FAA rulemaking remains pending. The FCC is now requesting comment on how the outcome of this FAA proceeding may affect any of the matters being considered here by the FCC. The FCC suggests that in response to the record developed in the FAA's proceeding, the FAA may ultimately determine that its serves the public interest to adopt less extensive notice requirements than it originally proposed.

Maintenance of Marking and Lighting

Inspection and Maintenance of Lighting

  • The FCC seeks comment on two alternative changes to Section 17.47, which requires that antenna structure owners make an observation of the antenna structure's lights at least once every 24 hours and conduct quarterly inspections of their lighting alarm systems. First, the FCC requests comment on deleting Section 17.47 in its entirety. Under this approach, it would be immaterial to the FCC how the structure owner ensures that its lights remain on or that the FAA is notified of a lighting outage. Owners of antenna structures would still be subject to enforcement action if they failed to meet the lighting requirements, regardless of the measures the structure owner followed to inspect its lighting and monitoring systems. Alternatively, the FCC seeks comment on amending Section 17.47 to exempt certain systems using network operations control (NOC) center-based monitoring technologies from the requirement to quarterly inspect all automatic or mechanical systems associated with antenna structure lighting.
  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.48, which requires antenna structure owners to promptly report to the FAA outages of top steady burning lights or flashing antenna structure lights. Upon such notification, the FAA issues a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to alert aircraft of the outage. After 15 days, the NOTAM is automatically deleted from the FAA's system. In the event the lighting outage cannot be repaired within 15 days, the FCC proposes requiring antenna structure owners to notify the FAA to extend the outage date and report a return to service date. Antenna structure owners would be required to repeat this process every 15 days until the lights are repaired. The FCC also proposes updating this rule so that antenna structure owners can notify the FAA by any means acceptable to the FAA, which currently is by a nationwide toll-free telephone number.
  • The FCC proposes deleting the provisions in Section 17.48(b) and 17.56(a), which provide that antenna structure owners should replace or repair lights "as soon as practicable" or "as soon as possible." The FCC states that its rules may be vague and requests comment on whether to include specific time frames.

Elimination of Unnecessary Provisions

  • The FCC proposes deleting Sections 17.45 (types of temporary warning lights to be used during construction of antenna structures for which red obstruction lighting is required), 17.51 (time when lights should be exhibited) and 17.56(b) (when flash tubes in a high intensity obstruction lighting system must be replaced), because the relevant requirements are already specified in the FAA determination of no hazard and associated study for each tower.

Records of Extinguishment or Improper Functioning of Lights

  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.49 to require antenna structure owners to maintain a record of observed or otherwise known extinguishments or improper functioning of structure lights for two years and to provide the records to the FCC upon request.

Maintenance of Painting

  • The FCC requests comment on amending Section 17.50, which requires that antenna structures be cleaned or repainted as often as necessary to maintain good visibility. The FCC requests comment on whether to establish an objective standard for measuring "good visibility" based on the FAA's “In Service Aviation Orange Tolerance Chart.” If so, the FCC requests comment on whether antenna structure owners should compare the FAA's chart to the tower at a distance of one quarter (0.25) mile or at the base of the tower, as is the current practice of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

Miscellaneous Issues

Voluntarily Registered Structures

  • The FCC requests comment on whether the rules concerning antenna structures should be enforced against antenna structure owners who have voluntarily registered their towers, even though such registration is not required. The FCC also seeks comment on whether owners of antenna structures that do not require registration should be prohibited from registering their towers, and whether antenna structure owners who have voluntarily registered should be required to withdraw their registrations from the FCC's database.

Definitions

  • In order to clarify that registration responsibilities fall squarely on the antenna structure owners, not on licensees or permittees that are merely tenants on the structure, the FCC proposes amending Section 17.2(c) to clarify that the "antenna structure owner" is the owner of the "underlying structure that supports or is intended to support antennas or other appurtenances."
  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.2(a) to clarify that a structure will be considered an "antenna structure" if it is constructed or used for the primary purpose of supporting antennas to transmit and/or receive radio energy, and any antennas and other appurtenances mounted thereon, from the time construction begins (regardless of whether the structure is immediately used for its intended purpose) until such time that the structure is dismantled (regardless of whether the structure continues to be used for the transmission and/or receipt of radio energy).

Posting of ASR Number

The FCC proposes modifying Section 17.4 to require that antenna structure owners display the ASR number so that it would be visible to a member of the general public who reaches the closest publicly accessible location near the base of the antenna structure. For example, if a member of the general public enters the premises by a path and is stopped by a locked gate or fence, then the FCC proposes that the ASR number should be displayed on or near the gate or fence. Where two or more separate locations of this nature exist for a single antenna structure, such as two roads from different directions to a mountaintop site, the FCC proposes that the ASR number must be posted at each location. The FCC proposes that it would not be necessary to post the ASR number both at the base of the tower and at a point visible to the general public. The FCC requests comment on how the rule should address those situations where two towers that have separate ASR numbers may be located within a single fenced area, as well as situations in which an antenna structure is located on a building.

Provision of ASR to Tenants

  • The FCC proposes amending Section 17.4(f) to allow antenna structure owners, as an alternative to providing a paper copy of Form 854R, to notify tenant licensees and permittees via e-mail or regular mail that the structure has been registered and to give the tenant licensees and permittees the ASR number along with a link for the FCC's ASR website.

Notification of Construction or Dismantlement

  • The FCC tentatively concludes that it should not amend Section 17.57 to increase from 24 hours the time required for notifying the FCC of construction or dismantlement of an antenna structure, or to change from "immediately" to five days the time required for notifying the FCC of changes in height or ownership. The FCC requests comment on its proposal to retain these current deadlines.