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Meeting tower light monitoring requirements: old rules, new penalties.

Recent actions by the Federal


Communications Commission

(FCC) give users of radio towers some very definite operational and monetary issues to consider. FCC regulations state that the licensee

< is responsible for the painting and lighting compliance on a radio tower and for daily observation, record keeping and reporting of light problems to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or its operational arm, the Flight Service Station (FSS), nearest to the tower. For years, because the fine amounts

< were extremely small, there was general apathy by licensees and owners of radio towers. Because the FCC lacked manpower and money for field inspections, they too were lax. For those of you who remember this scenario, you will find times have changed dramatically. In 1989, an air-med helicopter crashed

< into an unlit tower in North Carolina. Fatalities occurred and government lawyers took notice. This incident led to increased surveillance, inspections and, most importantly, dollar amounts the FCC can fine every licensee on a tower. Beginning in 1989, Congress passed a

< law increasing fine amounts. As of August 1, 1991, those fines start at $8,000 for private radio, $20,000 for broadcasters, and $80,000 for common carriers. Depending on the severity and history

< of occurrence (even if you are a recent licensee), these amounts can go up dramatically. License holders across the nation are now taking a hard look at what industry can provide to protect them from potentially devastating fines. Some of the rules that must be met

< include: Observing tower lights at least once

< each 24 hours either visually or through an automatic indicator; Maintaining an automatic alarm system < to detect any light failure; Inspecting all control devices, indicators

< and alarm systems at least every three months; Reporting immediately to the nearest


Flight Service Station or FAA office any improper function of top steady burning lights; Recording all tower light inspections

< in the station record. The visual monitoring leaves something

< to be desired. People go on vacation, visit, get busy or just plain forget. The solution must address initial cost fulfillment of legal responsibilities, operational costs and reliability. Today's technology offers such solutions. A Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) which

< receives signals regarding amperage draw on the tower, and a sensing device which reads the current are musts. Inbound calls (polling) can verify the

< unit's operation and check light functions. The RTU should have a back-up power supply capability so the unit can still be accessed and light status determined if AC power is lost. The most dependable and inexpensive

< communications would be a telephone line. Since only inbound calls occur, telephone service can be very inexpensive when using Local Option Service. For areas where running a telephone line would be cost prohibitive, a cellular phone could be adapted. Polling is accomplished by a centralized

< dedicated computer. The computer must have an uninterrupted power supply to prevent service interruption during power outages and to preserve data integrity. The computer must be manned because of the FAA's policy of verbal reports. Operationally, the polling computer

< will call the fleet of RTUs and obtain a status report. Each time status is determined, information is stored in a data file. Should the poll give a malfunctioning light status, the on-duty operator would call the FAA and report the required information. A record of the call should also be entered into the file. The FAA itself does not have a very

< reliable system of taking calls and verifying a report. Getting the FAA representative's name when reporting a light failure is another must. At the end of the month, the tower's file should be retrieved and a record produced. RTUs, on average, cost $3,000 per < unit. With the number of licenses my firm holds and the number of towers we rent space on, this would become an extremely expensive venture, quickly. Added is the expense of the polling computer, its software, long-distance calls to the towers (minimum once per evening with re-calls probable), and an on-duty operator. Estimated repair cost was foreseen as about 5% of purchase price yearly. All told, we were looking at a capitol

< outlay of somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 to start. This seems a considerable amount of money, but it is far less than the fines we risked each day by not addressing the problem. Prior to committing to a manufacturer,

< we realized the overwhelming need in the industry for not only an F.C.C. lighting rule compliant system, but one that incorporated a full tower management package (e.g. security, temperature control, transmitter strength, etc.). Building on our knowledge of the lighting issues, we developed our own system of hardware and software to fill an industry need as well as our own. A properly designed monitoring system < will make lighting the last of your operational concerns. Failure to address this issue can be a serious impediment to the growth, even existence, of your company.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Title Annotation:Tower Regulations; US Federal Communications Commission transmission tower regulations
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1992
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