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Comments are now closed on the FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to overhaul antenna-related rules, which covers Part 17 on construction, lighting, and marking. Comments were due by July 20th and the deadline for replies is August 19th.  A lot of our readers and clients already own AM broadcast antennas or if you own any kind of antenna structure or are expecting to build one, hopefully you have already contacted the FCC and made your suggestions, as this opportunity does not come along often.

In the past, most of these standards were set by the FAA (because of their focus on aviation), but enforced by the FCC.  The lack of communication between the two agencies has caused many discrepancies in the rules; the rules that are made to keep pilots and passengers from flying into the antenna structures.

If adopted, the proposed changes would remove outdated and competing guidelines, leaving antenna structure owners with clearer guidelines.

Summary: Antenna Structure Registration and Marking and Lighting Specifications

Specification of Marking and Lighting

  • Eliminate references to the FAA’s Advisory Circulars.  The particular one mentioned was superseded more than six years ago.  Their proposed solution is to eliminate all references to the circulars and instead antenna structure owners should comply with the FAA’s determination of no hazard and associated study for each new or altered antenna structure.  Each antenna structure owner is clearly notified of the marking and lighting requirements for each particular structure through the ASR process.
  • Clarify that lighting and marking requirements won’t change unless new specifications for a particular structure are recommended by the FAA.  A revised FAA Advisory Circular would not impose new obligations on approved antenna structures.  An alternate proposal would leave the FCC with the flexibility to apply new FAA standards retroactively.
  • FAA recommended specifications become mandatory, but the FCC can specify additional or different requirements.
  • No changes will be made to the lighting or marking specifications on the ASR without FAA and FCC approval.

Accuracy of Location and Height Data

  • Changes in height of an existing antenna structure of one foot or greater or changes in coordinates of one second or greater will require prior approval from the FAA and the FCC. Currently, the rules do require that alteration of an existing antenna structure requires a new registration, but the rules do not say specifically what constitutes an alteration.
  • Height information provided on FCC Form 854 of the 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.
  • Antenna structure owners must use the most accurate data they can when they report height and coordinate information.  They also wanted comments on if a particular method of surveying a site should be used to determine height and coordinate information.

Structures Requiring FAA Notification

  • Delete areas where the FCC simply restates FAA rules and instead reference the FAA rules.  Two particular sections are on antenna structures requiring notification to the FAA and certain antenna structures exempt from notification to the FAA.  The purpose of this would be to always have the latest FAA rules, for instance if the FAA changed a rule and the FCC did not update their rules, this could cause confusion.

Pending FAA Rulemaking on Notice and Obstruction Standards

  • Comments on how the outcome of an FAA proceeding proposed in 2006 could affect any of the other matters in the document.  The proposed proceeding was to expand FAA notification rules to require notice for any new or modified antenna structure ( 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.

Maintenance of Marking and Lighting

Inspection and Maintenance of Lighting

  • Two alternatives for the section that requires antenna structure owners to observe the antenna structure’s lights at least once every 24 hours and make quarterly inspections of their lighting alarm systems. The first option is to eliminate inspection requirements but maintain the obligation to have proper lighting at all times, also keeping in place penalties.  The second proposal is to amend the section to exempt certain systems using network operations control (NOC) center-based monitoring systems from the requirement to quarterly inspect all automatic or mechanical systems associated with antenna structure lighting.
  • Change the section that requires antenna structure owners to immediately report outages of top steady burning lights or flashing antenna structure lights to the FAA.  When this notification occurs, the FAA issues a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to warn aircraft of the outage; this notification is deleted after 15 days.  If the lighting cannot be repaired in 15 days, the new proposal would instead have the antenna structure owners notify the FAA to extend the outage date and to report when service is returned 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; this process to be repeated every 15 days until the lights are repaired.  Another update to this rule would allow antenna structure owners to notify the FAA by any method acceptable to them, which is currently a toll-free number.
  • Delete the section that requires antenna structure owners to replace or repair lights “as soon as practicable” or “as soon as possible” and whether or not the FCC should include specific time frames.

Elimination of Unnecessary Provisions

  • Deleting the sections on types of temporary warning lights (red obstruction lights) to be used during construction of antenna structures and the time when lights should be exhibited and when flash tubes in a high intensity obstruction lighting system must be replaced, since the 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

  • Require antenna structure owners to keep 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

  • Amend the section that requires antenna structures to be cleaned or repainted as often as necessary to maintain good visibility.  Should the FCC establish a standard for measuring “good visibility” based on the FAA’s “In Service Aviation Orange Tolerance Chart?” If so, would the antenna structure owners compare the FAA’s chart to the tower at a distance of 1/4 mile or at the base of the tower, as is the current practice of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

Other Matters

Voluntarily Registered Structures

  • Should rules concerning antenna structures should be enforced against antenna structure owners who voluntarily registered their towers, when they were not required to do so?  Should owners of antenna structures that do not require registration be prohibited from registering their towers, and should owners who have voluntarily registered be required to withdraw their registrations from the FCC’s database?

Definitions

  • Clarify that the “antenna structure owner” is the owner of the “underlying structure that supports or is intended to support antennas or other appurtenances” in order to clarify that registration responsibilities are those of antenna structure owners, not licensees or permittees that are tenants on the structure.
  • Clarify that a structure is considered an “antenna structure” if the primary purpose of the construction is to support antennas to transmit / receive radio energy.

Posting of ASR Number

  • Require that antenna structure owners display the ASR number so that it is visible to the general public who reaches the closest publicly accessible location near the base of the antenna structure (such as a gate or fence on the path leading to the structure.) If two locations exist, the ASR number must be posted at each location, however, it would not be necessary to post the ASR number at the tower base and at the point visible to the general public.  The FCC wanted comments on how to handle situations where multiple towers are in the same fenced in areas and when the antenna structure is on a building.

Provision of ASR to Tenants

  • Allow antenna structure owners additional methods of notifying 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 wants to stick by the 24 hour notification for construction or dismantling of an antenna structure, whereas the FAA requires notification within 5 days.

Facilities on Federal Land

  • There is an amusing case here where Section 17.58 requires compliance with Section 1.70 of the FCC’s rules, however, Section 1.70 was deleted back in 1977!  They propose to delete this section finally, after 33 years!

Be sure to read the entire Notice (linked at the top of the post) for complete information.  The FCC comments may be closed but ours are not.  Let us know what you think about the proposed changes below.

About The Author

LBA Group, Inc. has 50 years of experience in providing RF asset solutions and risk management for industrial and telecommunications infrastructure assets. The group is comprised of LBA Technology, a leading manufacturer and integrator of radio frequency systems, lightning protection and EMC equipment for broadcast, industrial and government users worldwide; the professional consultancy Lawrence Behr Associates and LBA University, providing on-site and online professional training. The companies are based in Greenville, N.C., USA.

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