FCC – the Federal Construction Commission?

As reported elsewhere on this blog, the FCC has decided to permit most directional AM licensees to use “moment method” computer programs to verify antenna performance. In a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking included as a portion of that decision, the Commission has also invited comment on how to amend its rules regulating tower construction near AM stations.

AM antennas are notoriously susceptible to unwanted effects caused by structures located near to the antennas. Such structures – for example, other towers, or large buildings, or construction cranes, or bridges – can re-radiate the AM signal, thus distorting the pattern which the AM station’s antenna was designed to produce.

Historically the Commission has imposed some limits on construction of towers near AM stations, but those limits have been spread through various parts of the Commission’s rules and have imposed differing requirements on different types of communications entities (e.g., broadcasters, wireless providers). In the interest of updating and “harmoniz[ing]” these rules, the Commission is now proposing to adopt a new set of rules, to be included in Part 1 of the rules and, therefore, to be equally applicable to all tower construction. The new rules would apply to all communications towers above a specified height, not just towers subject to FAA or tower registration constraints. The Commission has also specifically asked for comment on whether the new rules should apply as well to structures which would not be used for communications purposes and the owners of which are not otherwise subject to FCC Regulation.

This proposed rulemaking could significantly complicate the process of building new towers (as well as new buildings of any sort). It also raises a serious question of how far FCC jurisdiction can be said to extend – after all, it appears that the Commission is contemplating the regulation of structures that do not involve communications at all. Anyone who expects to be involved in the construction of a large structure in the vicinity of an AM station at any point in the future should pay attention to this proceeding.