FCC Denies Petitions for Fine Reconsideration by Mt. Wilson Stations

The FCC denied petitions for reconsideration of the FCC Forfeiture Order filed by the licensees of FM stations KKBT and KRTH and television station KWHY-TV. The Forfeiture Order assessed monetary forfeitures of $10,000 against each of the licensees for "willful and repeated violations of Section 1.1310 of the commission's rules."

Radio One, licensee of KKBT argued that the commission did not explain why KKBT should be held liable, while not revealing or explaining the measurement or liability of KHHT (FM), which broadcasts from the same tower as KKBT. Infinity, licensee of KRTH, argued that the federal government owns the land on which the Mt. Wilson facilities are located and should have engaged in a collaborative effort with the licensees at the site to reduce RFR emissions. Infinity also argued that the $10,000 forfeiture amount should be apportioned among the violators according to each station's percentage contribution to the overall violation of the maximum permissible exposure levels.

In its petition for reconsideration, Telemundo, licensee of KWHY-TV, argued that no reliable evidence justifies sanctions against the station, that the FCC failed to adopt the uniform use of a reliable methodology for enforcing the RFR Rules, that the FCC incorrectly rejected Telemundo's own measurements showing it did not contribute more than 5 percent of the maximum permissible exposure level and that the commission disregarded the application of uncertainty factors in the measurements.

In the Memorandum Opinion and Order (FCC 06-173) the FCC rejected these arguments. In the case of KKBT, the FCC noted that other FM stations, including KHHT, even though they were operating with higher effective radiated power (ERP) and with antennas closer to the ground than that of KKBT, contributed less than 5 percent of the public exposure limit after measurement uncertainty was considered. The FCC pointed out that antenna design, beam tilt, polarization, directionality, number of bays, spacing of bays and phasing, as well as objects in the area of the antenna, such as other towers and fences, can affect the measured RF power density at ground level. ERP and antenna height are not the only factors affecting on-ground RF power density.

The FCC also rejected Infinity's arguments, reiterating the prior determination that "responsibilities pertaining to RF electromagnetic fields properly belong with our licensees and applications, rather than with site owners." The FCC said its policy of encouraging collaboration does not insulate licensees from enforcement action for violations.

The MO&O devoted several paragraphs to the Telemundo petition regarding KWHY. In its petition for reconsideration, Telemundo submitted narrowband measurements showing KWHY's contribution to the RF power density in the area to have been slightly more than 2 percent of the public limit. The FCC did not dispute the accuracy of the narrowband measurements as they related to KWHY-TV's RFR emissions on Dec. 1, 2003, but said it could not accept them as proof that the field agents' July 2002 measurements were made in error. The commission noted that Telemundo did not and could not assert that the operational parameters of all of the RF emitters and reflectors and re-radiators at the Mt. Wilson site were the same on Dec. 1, 2003 and July 11 and 12, 2003, even if KWHY-TV's operational parameters were the same. It also rejected Telemundo's calculations and modeling showing KWHY-TV's contribution was less than 5 percent of the public exposure limit, noting that calculations and modeling do not take into account reflections and re-radiation. In the MO&O, the FCC warned that because KWHY-TV, KKBT (FM), KRTH (FM) and KBIG (FM) each were found to have exceeded the 5 percent limit, each shared in the responsibility to bring the area into compliance and to make the noncompliant area inaccessible to the public.

In the MO&O, the FCC described how the measurements were conducted and included a table showing how it calculated uncertainty for each of the stations. To avoid taking the stations off the air for an extended period of time, the FCC conducted measurements with all stations operating, then had stations shut off their transmitters one at a time. The FCC took new spatially averaged measurements after each station shut off their transmitter and used the difference between the power density with all stations on the air and with the one station off the air to determine the amount of RF each individual station was contributing. A plus or minus 3 dB uncertainty factor was applied to the difference between the two measurements and only those stations that contributed more than 5 percent of the public exposure limit after subtracting 3 dB for measurement uncertainty were cited.

The FCC rejected Telemundo's argument that the total RF power density measurement can vary from 5 to 10 percent at the same location under the same conditions and thus the FCC had no reliable basis on which to claim KWHY exceeded the 5 percent contribution threshold. Using the average measurement of 160.5 percent, if the FCC accepted Telemundo's argument that measurement accuracy could vary as much as 5 percent (of the total reading), the percentage of RF power above the public exposure limit could vary as much as 8 percent (5 percent of the 160.5 percent level) between measurements even without any station shutting off or turning on its transmitter. The MO&O said that "accepting Telemundo's formula would negate any potential liability for any but the largest contributors and run afoul of the requirement that RFR compliance is the shared responsibility of all licensees whose transmitter produce, in the area in question, power density levels that exceed 5 percent of the power density exposure limit applicable to their particular transmitter."

The MO&O sends a clear warning to stations at multiple transmitter sites that they will be held responsible for RF power density exceeding maximum permissible public exposure limits. This is even if the area in which the exposure occurred is outside their control and even if calculations show a station does not contribute more than 5 percent of the allowable limit. In a multiple transmitter site, where conditions can change, individual measurements may not be sufficient to show a station's contribution is less than 5 percent.