By Michael Higgs
In 2010, theinitiated a rulemaking proceeding to update and modernize the Part 17 rules governing the construction, marking and lighting of antenna structures. The rules of this section seek to establish parity with safety regulations promulgated by the FAA in an effort to protect against aircraft/tower collisions. In general, if an antenna facility is more than 200 feet tall or is located within the glide slope of an airport, it must meet the FAA's criteria for painting and lighting. Otherwise, the antenna structure owner (but not its licensee tenants) might face FCC enforcement.
While the rulemaking is still ongoing, one element of the proceeding has been all but codified with recent waivers issued by the FCC's wireless telecommunications bureau. Section 17.47(b) of the FCC's rules states that the owner of any antenna structure that has Part 17 lighting requirements assigned to it "[s]hall inspect at intervals not to exceed 3 months all automatic or mechanical control devices, indicators, and alarm systems associated with the antenna-structure lighting to insure that such apparatus is functioning properly."
No changes have been made to date, but the commission proposed two revisions to this rule. One proposal is to eliminate the requirements for quarterly inspections in their entirety. Some commenters have noted that structure owners may incorrectly conclude that, so long as they perform the quarterly inspections required under Section 17.47, they would not be subject to enforcement action if the tower lights fail to function. Because the time requirements for notification to the FAA of lighting outages are measured in hours, not months, quarterly inspections are of questionable utility.
The second revision to 17.47(b) under consideration is to exempt certain systems using network-operations-center-based monitoring technologies from the quarterly inspection requirements. In providing waivers to several large antenna site owners (including waivers recently granted to American Tower and Southern Company), the commission and bureau seem to have settled on this approach.
The antenna siting industry argues that the quarterly inspections of antenna monitoring systems mandated by Section 17.47(b) are unnecessary due to technological advancements associated with the types of monitoring systems currently employed by many structure owners. The commission and bureau have declared that quarterly physical inspections are no longer necessary where antenna-structure owners can demonstrate that they are operating safe and reliable monitoring systems that provide sufficiently robust monitoring of the control devices, indicators and alarm systems.
The common link between the monitoring systems for which the commission and bureau have provided waivers of the quarterly inspection requirement are: a continuous and permanent two-way link between the antenna structure site and the response center; timely reporting of potential problems; continuously staffed response centers; 24-hour polling of both lighting and communications systems; on-demand interrogation capabilities; backup response centers; and essentially uninterrupted communications between the response center and the antenna structure site during power outages.
Whether we see a codification of the waiver conditions or an elimination of the inspection requirements, the FCC is taking affirmative steps to remove outdated and burdensome regulations without compromising safety to air navigation.
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