There is a growing need for tower space as wireless technologies proliferate, and the potential profits to be made by tower owners leasing space for these new technologies has resulted in the growth of companies whose sole business is to own and manage towers. However, managing towers is not a simple affair, as they are subject to numerous regulations from the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration, not to mention the many other applicable regulations of the Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The FCC recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing revisions to Part 17, its Antenna Structure Registration rules, with the stated goals of improving compliance and safety and to remove dated and burdensome requirements on tower owners. It also claimed that the proposals will help tower owners, as the FCC puts it, “more efficiently and cost effectively” comply with the FCC’s rules.
While it may be true that the FCC is proposing to streamline aspects of its rules, for antenna structure owners, the NPRM is a mixed bag at best and includes a number of possible new regulations that could increase regulatory compliance burdens. For example, the FCC is proposing new regulations changing the way it evaluates proper tower painting, adding station record retention requirements, changing the required location of signage, and establishing new tower light failure and tower inspection requirements. Of perhaps the greatest concern, the FCC is asking whether it should adopt a whole new set of rules to be consistent with those to be issued by the FAA which could expand notification requirements for construction of new facilities that operate on specified frequency bands, changes in authorized frequency, addition of new frequencies, and new power and height thresholds.
Among the potentially beneficial changes, the NPRM proposes to replace the current tower inspection and observation requirements with a simple rule mandating only prompt reporting of outages, ease the requirement regarding quarterly inspections of automatic control systems associated with tower lighting, clarify the rules regarding the posting of Antenna Structure Registration numbers, create an objective standard for determining when an antenna structure must be cleaned or repainted, and permit tower owners to notify tenants by email when a tower structure has been registered rather than being required to provide a paper notification.
The FCC set the public comment dates in this proceeding through publication in the Federal Register today. Comments are due July 20, 2010, and reply comments are due August 19, 2010. As will be discussed in greater detail in a Client Advisory regarding the proposed rule revisions, the FCC has requested comment on these and a multitude of other changes. A complete copy of the FCC’s NPRM can be found here. Given the breadth of this proceeding, tower owners and tenants should seriously consider providing their input on the proposed rule changes or be prepared to live with the consequences. In worst case scenarios, tower owners can face fines of more than a million dollars for failing to comply with various federal (as well as state and local) regulations, and it is therefore wise for them to register their input on what those regulations will look like.