The FCC recently fined a California tower owner $3,000 for failure to “immediately notify the Commission of a change in ownership information….” According to the Forfeiture Order, the owner of a two-tower array violated Section 17.57 of the FCC’s Rules, which requires tower owners to immediately notify the FCC of any change in ownership information. Such changes must be filed electronically, on FCC Form 854, using the FCC’s online Antenna Structure Registration (“ASR”) filing system.

The Forfeiture Order states that in November 2008, agents from the Los Angeles Field Office attempted to contact the owner of record for the tower array. Unable to reach the tower owner directly, the field agent then contacted the Santa Barbara, California AM station that was utilizing the towers. A member of the station’s staff mentioned that the towers had been purchased by the station’s licensee “several years earlier.” At that time, the field agent informed the station staff member that the tower ownership information must be updated with the FCC to reflect the correct ownership information. The station’s staff member indicated that the information would be updated as requested. According to the FCC’s ASR database, the ownership information was updated less than a week later.

In its response to an LOI issued by the FCC in March 2009, the tower owner indicated that it had purchased the towers in 2004 and that the failure to update the ownership information was “inadvertent and timely remedied when brought to [broadcaster’s] attention by the Los Angeles field agent.”

In May 2009, the FCC issued an NAL imposing a $6,000 fine. The base fine for violating Section 17.57 is $3,000. The FCC imposed a fine for the failure to timely file updated ownership information for each of the towers in the array. In response to the NAL, the tower owner noted that it was no longer the licensee of the radio station utilizing the tower array, having earlier assigned the station’s license to a limited liability company wholly-owned by the tower owner. It therefore asked that the “fine be canceled since [it] was not a licensee or reduced, because there was no harm caused by the failure to update both antenna structure registrations.”

In the Forfeiture Order, the FCC rejected the tower owner’s request for dismissal based on that fact that it was not a licensee. The FCC cited Section 1.80(d) of its Rules, stating:

a forfeiture penalty may be imposed if such person is engaged in (and the violation related to) activities for which a license, permit, certificate, or other authorization is required or if such person is a cable television operator, or in the case of violations of section 303(q), if the person involved is a nonlicensee who has previously received notice of the obligations imposed by section 303(q) from the Commission or the permittee or licensee who uses that tower. The Commission amended section 1.80(d) of the Rules in 1993 to conform to the recently amended section 503(b)(5) of the Act which provided that nonlicensee tower owners may be subject to forfeitures without a prior citation.

The Forfeiture Order notes that the failure to update ownership information could result in “potential harm” in an instance where the FCC needs to contact the owner of a structure “in the event of a problem,” but lacked the current ownership information to do so. The FCC did, however, agree to reduce the fine to $3,000, since both towers were owned by the same entity and were part of the same array.