Announcement of OMB approval expected soon

If you’re planning on building a new tower, or significantly modifying an existing tower, in the foreseeable future, listen up. The Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has issued a public notice laying out the new registration procedures that have been adopted (but not yet implemented) to provide pre-registration notice-and-comment opportunities relative to environmental considerations. We have previously reported on the new procedures; the public notice puts a little more meat on the procedural bones we have already described.

Who needs to worry about this? You do, if you’re:

planning to build any new tower that would have to registered through the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) system. The only exceptions are for (a) towers to be built on sites for which some other federal agency has responsibility for environmental review or (b) cases in which an emergency waiver has been granted.

modifying an existing registered tower by (a) increasing its overall height by more than 10% or 20 feet, or (b) adding lighting to a previously unlit structure, or (c) modifying existing lighting from a more preferred configuration to a less preferred configuration. (Helpful tip: the “most preferred” configuration is no lights at all; the least preferred is red steady lights. Anything else falls in the middle.)

amending a pending application involving either of the foregoing situations and the amendment would (a) change the type of structure, or (b) change the structure’s coordinates, or (c) increase the overall height of the structure or (d) change from a more preferred to a less preferred lighting configuration or (e) an Environmental Assessment is required.

If you’re in one of those categories, here’s what the Bureau will expect you to do once the new process takes effect.

First, you’ll file a partially-completed Form 854 in the FCC’s ASR system. This will consist of information previously required on Form 854, plus tower lighting information and specification of the date on which the applicant wants the FCC to post the application on the Commission’s website for comments.

Once Form 854 has been filed, you’ll have to publish a notice (“in a local newspaper or by other means”). The Bureau isn’t specific about the precise content of the required public notice or what “other means” – besides a local paper – might be. But the purpose of the local notice appears to be to let folks know about the registration application and the opportunity to submit comments to the FCC about it. The local notice has got to be made on or before the date the applicant has designated in its application for posting of the application on the FCC’s website.

The comment period will be open for 30 days, during which time members of the public can ask the Commission for further environmental review.

If the FCC staff concludes that no additional environmental review is required, the applicant will then move on to Step Two of the process. In that step, the applicant will have to amend its application to reflect (a) the FAA’s study number and issue date (if those haven’t already been provided in the initial application), (b) the date of the local public notice, and (c) a certification that the proposed construction will have no significant environmental impact. According to the FCC’s public notice, that could happen “after approximately 40 days” – but the notice doesn’t say whether that means 40 days after the opening of the comment period or the close of the comment period or some other date.

But if, after considering the initial, partial Form 854 and any public comments that roll in the door, the FCC decides that more review is required, it will require the submission of an Environmental Assessment (assuming, of course, that the applicant hasn’t already filed such an Assessment on its own). It’s safe to say that that would extend the processing time considerably. If an Environmental Assessment is required, the FCC will first have to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact before the applicant can proceed to Step Two with the necessary amendment of its application.

Interestingly, it appears from the FCC’s public notice that the Commission doesn’t plan to directly notify applicants when their applications are ready for Step Two. According to the notice, “[a]pplicants will be able to determine which of their pending applications are ready for completion of Part 2 by logging into the ASR system, where these applications will be listed as Ready for Certification.”

The FCC’s public notice also lists some additional obligations relating to service-specific applications, and provides information about the opportunity for members of the public to file “Environmental Requests”. Such “Requests” will seek further FCC environmental review.

Obviously, the Wireless Bureau has been hard at work gearing up for the eventual implementation of the new environmental processes. The public notice lists a range of updates that have been made to Commission systems and forms as part of the process. And if you’re curious about how all this is going to work, the Commission will present a demonstration of the changes at 11:00 a.m. on May 21, 2012. You can attend in person at the FCC’s D.C. headquarters, or you can view it online. (Online viewers can get to the webcast by going to and clicking on the appropriate event link.)

The new registration process is not yet effective, but that could change any day now. The Office of Management and Budget has apparently signed off on the new regimen, so it’s presumably just a matter of time before the Commission makes it official. Check back here for updates.