FCC Gives Broadband Operator 25,000 Reasons to Comply With Tower Rules

Tower owners take note – if your tower is subject to the Federal Communications Commission’s lighting and registration rules, the FCC expects you to comply with these rules and to heed any FCC warnings about rule violations.  A tower owner in Yorktown, Texas recently learned this lesson the hard way after the FCC provided 25,000 reasons to pay closer attention. 

On January 13, 2011, the FCC announced a $25,000 fine against RAMCO Broadband Services for numerous violations of the FCC’s tower lighting and antenna structure registration rules. The FCC requires tower owners to paint and light antenna structures that may present a hazard to air navigation, and it requires such owners to register with the FCC when their antenna structures meet the criteria for notification to the Federal Aviation Administration.  According to the Enforcement Bureau’s Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, RAMCO Broadband Services owned a tower that because of its height, must be painted, lit and registered with the FCC.  In response to a complaint, an FCC agent visited the tower site in January, February and March 2010.  The FCC agent noticed that the antenna structure was registered to the previous tower owner and not to RAMCO.  In addition, the agent found that the tower was not lit after sunset, that RAMCO had not notified the FAA of a light outage, and that the antenna structure registration number was not displayed in a readily visible manner at the base of the tower.  According to the NALF, the agent warned RAMCO of these violations orally. 

A subsequent inspection of the tower in September 2010 indicated that RAMCO had not corrected any of the violations.  In the NALF, the FCC fined RAMCO a total of $25,000; $6,000 for failing to update the ownership information for the tower; $4,000 for failing to post the antenna structure registration number and $15,000 for failing to comply with lighting requirements.  RAMCO has until February 12, 2011 to either pay the forfeiture or to seek reduction or cancellation of the forfeiture based on inability to pay or other grounds. In addition, RAMCO must provide the FCC by January 28, 2011 a certification that it has taken certain remedial steps or a timetable for completing repairs and for continued notifications to the FAA regarding the lighting outage.

Why so serious? This decision illustrates an important lesson. All too quickly, what may seem at first glance as “minor” violations of the FCC’s rules can escalate into more serious infractions.  Here, the FCC found that the owner failed to update tower ownership information or properly post the antenna structure registration number at the base of the tower.  These infractions are much less serious than failing to have tower lights that function at night or failing to notify the FAA of such outages.  The rules are designed to give notice to the FAA and to pilots of known hazards to air traffic, and inaction by a tower owner can increase the potential for loss of human life and property damage.  The upshot is that, as RAMCO has learned, the FCC takes violations of these rules very seriously.