FCC Gets Aggressive on Broadcast Tower Safety

WASHINGTON—The FCC Enforcement Bureau is getting aggressive in fining broadcasters for safety issues involving their antenna towers. In several recent fines, the commission is taking the position that any violation — if it occurs on more than one day — is willful and a repeated violation.

The Broadcast Law Blog cited three recent FCC cases that it said demonstrates how seriously the FCC views tower site safety issues.

A broadcast station was fined a total of $14,000 when it was found that the fence surrounding its transmitter was falling down and it did not enclose areas of high RF radiation as required by Section 73.49 of the rules. The station also had a main studio that was unattended on two successive days, and had no one answering the phone on those days when the FCC tried to call. The FCC broke the fine down as $7000 due to the lack of fencing and $7000 to the unattended main studio.

In another case, the FCC fined a station $10,000 for areas of high RF radiation that were not fenced or marked by signs when the FCC conducted its inspection and $4000 for operating overpower. The commission measured the overpower operation on one day, inferred that it had been in place the previous day, and thus deemed the violation repeated. They also found that the station's tower was fenced, but there was high RF outside the fence, leading to the fine.

In another case, the Commission fined a station because the flashing beacon on the top of a tower was out on two successive days, even though the required steady-lit obstruction lights on the side of the tower were operational. While the licensee notified the FAA of the outage three days later (with no noted prompting from the FCC), and had the situation corrected two days after notifying the FAA, the FCC determined that the violation was repeated and willful, leading to a $10,000 fine.

While the proposed fines are Notices of Apparent Liability, which can be contested by the licensees, they demonstrate an aggressive level of FCC enforcement in regard to tower and safety issues.

Many broadcasters have recently argued that "willful and repeated" should mean something more than a violation of the rule that goes on for more than one day. So far, the FCC has rejected all of these arguments.

These types of violations are usually not covered by the alternate inspection programs conducted by state broadcast associations. Broadcasters today must carefully monitor compliance with all transmitter site technical issues themselves, especially those that could potentially affect health and safety. Otherwise, they may face major fines from the FCC.