In an order released this week, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) announced that Scripps Broadcasting Holdings had agreed to a $1.13 Million settlement with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to resolve violations of tower lighting monitoring rules. What makes this case especially interesting is that the party who is paying the fine and instituting a years-long compliance plan wasn’t even the party responsible for the wrongdoing!

In 2018, the FCC began an investigation after a small aircraft crashed into a TV tower owned by Cordillera Communications (Cordillera was purchased by Scripps for $521 million that same year). While it determined that there was nothing about that particular tower that contributed to the accident, the Enforcement Bureau did find widespread issues with Cordillera’s tower lighting monitoring processes. Cordillera also failed to maintain adequate records documenting each tower lighting failure. Because Scripps bought the wrongdoer (rather than just the assets), Scripps is tagged with the consequences of that company’s violations of the FCC rules.

This case is a good reminder that the FCC is serious about tower lighting, monitoring, and recordkeeping to demonstrate that monitoring has been done properly. The FCC rules require either a daily visual inspection of tower lights or use of an automatic monitoring system for tower lights to provide an alert of an outage, and maintenance of a log of the daily inspection by a chief operator or a log generated by the monitoring system. It is also a good reminder that due diligence in an acquisition must include tower lighting monitoring records.

Finally, while this case enforces against a tower owner, we remind you that a radio or TV station licensee who does not own the tower can still be held liable for tower lighting failures – the FCC’s rules require a licensee who knows that the lights on its tower are out to report the outage and undertake efforts to ameliorate it.

Review your procedures for monitoring tower lighting to keep your liability exposure to a minimum!