FCC Adopts Part 17 Antenna Structure Report and Order

FCC Adopts Part 17 Antenna Structure Report and Order

Today, the Commission adopted a long-awaited Report and Order streamlining and updating its Part 17 rules governing the construction, marking and lighting of antenna structures.  The order was adopted unanimously by Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai and O’Rielly.

The staff presentation and statements of the Chairman and Commissioners are summarized below.  The FCC has also issued a News Release, available here.

Staff Presentation

Today’s item is part of the FCC’s ongoing process reform initiative, and makes common sense updates to the FCC’s antenna structure rules.  The updates to Part 17 are intended to improve efficiency, reduce regulatory burdens, and enhance compliance with tower painting and lighting requirements, while continuing to ensure air safety.

The Report and Order takes the following actions:

·       Exempts owners that use robust, modern, monitoring systems from quarterly inspection requirements, which will (i) save antenna structure owners millions of dollars annually that may be used on additional infrastructure and (ii) encourage other antenna structure owners to adopt these state of the art systems;

·       Bolsters the FCC’s lighting outage notification requirements;

·       Standardizes repair timelines;

·       Harmonizes the FCC’s requirements to maintain painting with FAA standards;

·       Removes outdated provisions in the Part 17 rules; and

·       Streamlines several provisions regarding the antenna structure registration process by removing conflicting or ambiguous rules – specifically, by ensuring consistency with FAA recommendations regarding marking and lighting specifications, construction notifications, and the accuracy of height and location data.

In summary, the item furthers ongoing FCC efforts to facilitate broadband infrastructure deployment while promoting air safety and reducing regulatory burdens.


Commissioner Clyburn.  For some time now, the upcoming AWS-3 and Incentive Auctions have received the most press.  Less written about, however, are the Commission’s rules regarding infrastructure deployment.  But spectrum allocation and infrastructure policy are linked.  If we want the upcoming spectrum auctions to yield the greatest benefits for mobile consumers and our economy, we must review – and where possible streamline – our infrastructure deployment policies.

We must make sure that our licensees meet their public interest obligations.  But our focus also should be on removing any unnecessary rules.  Instead of spending finite resources on compliance with needless rules, the wireless industry and the regulators should retarget those resources on investments in improved networks that cover larger service areas.

Antenna tower maintenance and registration requirements are necessary to ensure these structures do not jeopardize aviation safety.  But some of these rules are decades old and are now outdated.  One example is a requirement for quarterly physical inspections of tower monitoring systems, which have cost some of the larger tower companies millions of dollars each year.  Advances in technology now allow for remote monitoring of those towers.

I am pleased this item will exempt tower owners from a quarterly inspection requirement if they use a NOC-based operating system that is staffed with highly-trained personnel who can respond to alarms 24-hours a day.  This item also improves our lighting outage requirements, standardizes repair timelines, and harmonizes other maintenance requirements with FAA guidelines.  I commend parties like PCIA for their advocacy on these issues.

Commissioner Rosenworcel.  The world has gone wireless.  There are today more mobile phones than people in the United States.  All of this activity on our airwaves puts a premium on spectrum.  So spectrum usually gets all of the glory.  Not today.  Today, we acknowledge that wireless infrastructure is the unsung hero of the wireless revolution.  No amount of spectrum will lead to better wireless service without good and safe infrastructure.

To give infrastructure its due, we streamline rules governing construction, marking and lighting of antenna structures.  This clears the way for speeding our antenna structure registration process.  We also clarify the obligations of owners of antenna structures and harmonize the FCC’s rules with the policies of the FAA.  Keeping our Part 17 rules up to date helps ensure air safety.  These are all good things.  Overall, they bring overdue attention to the nitty-gritty role infrastructure plays in making our wireless world possible.

Commissioner Pai.  When the FCC eliminates a rule that allows tower owners to notify the FAA about lighting outages by telegraph, you know that our modernization effort is long overdue.  Spectrum policy grabs the headlines, but wireless infrastructure is no less important.  Consumers will not have superior – or even adequate – wireless service if companies cannot deploy infrastructure in timely manner.  For far too long, the FCC’s infrastructure rules have not kept pace with changes in technology.  They have impeded innovation and imposed costs with few, if any, offsetting public benefits.  Today’s order makes some progress on this front.

For example, we eliminate an unnecessary mandate by determining that tower owners that use advanced monitoring systems in network operations centers need not conduct quarterly inspections.  This is a needless requirement that has cost one company alone $9.8 million since 2007 [in a press conference after the open meeting presentation, FCC representatives clarified that this amount was spent by American Tower, and other companies could expect to see significant savings].  By getting rid of outdated regulations like this, we enable infrastructure providers to focus less on jumping through pointless regulatory hoops and more on meeting consumer demand for wireless services.

But there is much more work to be done.  In 2012, I called on the FCC to streamline our rules governing the deployment of wireless infrastructure.  In a unanimous vote last year, we announced a comprehensive review of all of our wireless infrastructure rules.  We teed up issues like small cell deployments, distributed antenna systems, the use of local moratoria, and improvements to our shot clock rules that are beyond the scope of today’s narrower order.  Now is the time to complete that review and update our rules in a comprehensive way.  We need to remove barriers to infrastructure investment so that America can continue to lead the world in wireless.

Commissioner O’Rielly.  I am pleased to consider this item to streamline and harmonize the Commission’s antenna structure registration rules with those of the FAA.  Despite the clear benefits of updating these rules, today’s order has been in the works for a long time.  In fact, this issue was first raised in 2005 during the Commission’s 2004 Biennial Review, and was raised again in a petition for rulemaking filed in 2006.  The question that has to be asked is why it took nine years to get this item before the Commission for a vote.  We simply must do better.  I applaud the Chairman for moving these backlogged proceedings during his time at the Commission.

Additionally, we were able to come to agreement on the scope of delegated authority provided to the Bureau to update rules that reflect future FAA antenna structure requirements.  The end result ensures that non-substantive and editorial changes can be made at the Bureau level, but all other decisions would come to the Commission for consideration.  It is a reasonable compromise.

Chairman Wheeler.  Infrastructure is what it is all about.  This common sense proposal has been languishing almost a decade.  It makes sense.  Better than that, it is common sense.  There will be more of these kinds of streamlining initiatives forthcoming.