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John Garziglia

Tower Fencing

by John Garziglia

One of our stories this week featured a situation where a station owner in a small market received a fairly substantial fine from the FCC for not properly fencing his tower. That seemed like a good reason for us to go to our expert attorney John Garziglia to provide broadcasters with information on how they can avoid such a fine. Here's what John had to say. "The violation of FCC rules for fencing, radio-frequency radiation (RFR) exposure, and signage are predominant FCC fine generators on the grounds around radio station tower areas." 

"For AM stations, a deterioration of the existing wood fencing is often an issue.  AM non-metallic tower fences tend to deteriorate more quickly over time than would a metal fence.  Missing boards, gaps in fencing, and gates that no longer lock, are all issues that can create potential FCC forfeiture liabilities for AM stations.  Simply put, if a normal person without too much effort can get through your fence and access your AM tower, the fencing is insufficient and your station is risking an FCC fine." 

"For FM stations, RFR exposure levels, combined with fencing access issues, go hand in hand to create problems.  Radiofrequency radiation exposure limits are separated into two categories occupational and public.  For areas with occupational access only, ask your engineer what is your stations RFR exposure plan for its workers and contractors.  The plan should state the length of time that workers can be in certain areas before occupational exposure limits are exceeded. Then confirm that the plan is adhered to."

"For areas with public access RFR levels outside of locked fencing, confirm that nothing has changed on your tower since RF levels were last calculated or measured to be at safe levels.  Multi-user sites, particularly if a radio station is only a tenant, can create RFR exposure liabilities for the station if some later-added third-party RF source pushes public areas over RFR exposure limits.   The FCC holds all site users that materially contribute to RFR levels liable for areas with excessive RFR."

"A common fencing issue that arises for FM stations in more mountainous regions is whether a transmitter site is truly remote and is thus is not required to be fenced.  If a visit to a remote transmitter site shows significant indicia of public access by hikers, off-road vehicles and others, it is unlikely to be regarded as a remote by the FCC for RFR exposure purposes.  The definitive governmental document on RFR exposure, OET Bulletin 65, describes remote areas such as mountain tops as areas that could conceivably be accessible but are not likely to be visited by the public.

"Finally, areas with excessive RFR, even if remote, are expected to have RFR warning signs.  The FCC says that the burden is on the licensee to ensure that the RFR warning signs are plainly visible to the public from every possible direction that the public may access the area of concern.  The burden is not on the public to attempt to find RFR warning signs.  Thus, it is easily surmised that if an FCC inspector must look for RFR warning signs, the signage is insufficient."

"Unrelated to RFR, while checking for RFR warning signs, confirm that the FCC Antenna Structure Registration Number, the ASR, if the tower has one, is properly posted at the bottom of the tower and at a location, if needed, that can be seen from an area accessible to the public." 

"The FCCs fencing, RFR exposure and signage rules and regulations are safety related obligations that the FCC takes seriously and so should broadcast stations.  Simply put, if a member of the public can access in the normal course an AM tower, or an area at an FM station that has RFR in excess of public limits, there is a problem and a station is risking a potential FCC fine."

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com. Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com.

 


 
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