Jan. 8, 2015 — As 2014 drew to a close, we were saddened to hear of another tower climber fatality, the 12th in so many months. Allen Lee Cotton, a 44-year-old tower climber, fell to his death from a cell tower in the middle of December in Greeneville, South Carolina.
He was working with two other climbers for Central USA Wireless, Cincinnati, at the time, but neither saw the incident occur. OSHA is investigating the incident.
Earlier in December, firefighters performed a high-angle rescue on a tower climber who had slipped off a platform and was hanging by his safety harness 150 feet off the ground. The rescue took 30 minutes to perform.
This year brought an amazing amount of attention to the safety of tower workers. It all began with a letter to the industry in February from OSHA through NATE to tower service companies, imploring the tower industry to increase its vigilance concerning safety. The agency also promised increased penalties for companies that knowingly ignored the safety of their climbers. In September, OSHA would make good on that threat with fining Wireless Horizon $134,400 for two willful and four serious safety violations for an incident that killed two cell tower workers in 2013.
The importance of tower climber safety increased in visibility at the FCC, as well. The agency examined ways to prevent future deaths of cell tower workers at the day-long Workshop on Tower Climber Safety and Injury Prevention on Oct. 15 in Washington, D.C.
Later in October, the FCC teamed with the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration to launch an apprenticeship program for telecommunications tower technicians, the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), which partners the government and industry stakeholders to promote safety and education in the telecommunications workforce.
TIRAP will work in concert with ongoing safety efforts, such as one by the National Association of Tower Erectors’ Wireless Industry Safety Taskforce (WIST), formed in 2013 to develop a standard for best practices for sustainable safety training.
Also in October, the Department of Labor announced a $3.25 million grant to create a college-based template for wireless infrastructure job training at Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia. The grant, which was written in concert with PCIA – the Wireless Infrastructure Association, allow VSU to strengthen a new program aimed at building a network of colleges to train students for high-skilled careers in wireless infrastructure, and the association will assist in managing the program.
Warriors 4 Wireless was launched to develop training and certification programs with educational institutions, such as Aiken Technical College, and industry partners, such as Grey Wolves Telecom, aimed at employing veterans of the nation’s military.
The focus was not only on the preventing tragedies. A major effort was commenced to support families whose loved ones become casualties while climbing. The Tower Industry Family Support Charitable Foundation was launched in September by the wireless industry with the lead of the National Association Tower Erectors through a joint donation of $400,000 from ClearTalk Wireless, a flat-rate wireless service provider, and the law firm of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.
But even with well-meaning letters, speeches and committee meetings, cell towers proved to be no less dangerous in 2014. Tragedy met young and old alike. For example, Joel Metz, a 28-year-old father of four, was decapitated on July 2, in a Metz, while replacing a boom at a tower site in Harrison County, Kentucky. Thomas Lucas, 49, fell 80 feet on Aug. 10, while painting a tower in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. Chad Louis Weller, 21, was working on communications equipment located atop of the 180-foot water tower, March 19, in Pasadena, Maryland. Just to name a few. The dozen climbers that died was just one fewer than the year before.
In the New Year, expect the industry, and AGL Media Group, to redouble our efforts to promote tower safety. More people joined the conversation on tower safety in 2014 than ever before, but it is up to the industry to follow through with safety training standards and increased educational options to ensure competent tower climbers. But, most important, the industry cannot tolerate businesses that use low-cost, poorly trained tower workers.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link.
The FCC’s broadcast rules contained several sections dealing with tower placement near AM antennas to protect AM stations from the potential effects of nearby tower construction. However, two prominent rule sections dealing with wireless communications, namely Part 90 (Land Mobile Radio) and Part 24 (Personal Communications Services) entirely lack provisions for protecting AM stations from the possible effects of nearby tower construction.
By its recent Order in MM Docket No. 93-177 (Rel. Aug. 16, 2013), the FCC seeks to harmonize and streamline its rules by establishing a single protection scheme for tower construction and modification near AM tower arrays, and by designating “moment method” modeling as the principal means of determining whether a nearby tower affects an AM station radiation pattern.
The prior rules required licensees and permittees to notify AM stations and take appropriate action when a tower was constructed within a fixed distance of an AM station. This fixed distance approach has now been replaced by one that defines the critical distance from AM stations based on the incumbent’s frequency and the proponent’s tower height. The critical distance for a non-directional AM station is one wavelength at the frequency of the AM station. The critical distance for a directional AM station is 10 wavelengths of the frequency of the AM station up to a maximum distance of three kilometers.
The new rules exempt short towers from the AM proximity analysis requirement because such low-in-stature towers are inefficient radiators that would not generally affect an AM broadcast pattern. The threshold height for new tower erections or major modifications to comply with the requisite AM proximity analysis is 36 electrical degrees for a directional antenna array, and 60 electrical degrees for a non-directional antenna. Three hundred sixty electrical degrees equals one wavelength at the frequency of the AM transmitter.
By this Order, the FCC has harmonized and streamlined the rules regarding tower construction and modification near AM stations, improved the protections afforded AM broadcasters, and reduced the time required to determine the effect of tower construction in the vicinity of AM stations while reducing the costs of such analysis. The adoption of the new rules goes a long way toward mitigating any confusion among affected parties while ensuring consistent protection of AM station operations and providing greater cost certainty for tower owners.
For more information, see the FCC’s Report and Order.
Michael L. Higgs Jr., member of the Shulman Rogers telecom practice, assisted with the reporting.
Municipalities may see stricter cell tower application rules as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in City of Arlington, Texas, et al. v. Federal Communications Commission et. al. ruling, which affirmed the antenna siting shot clock, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told Kevin Martin, Patton Boggs, in an onstage interview before an audience at the Tower and Small Cell Summit last month in Las Vegas.
“The decision does give us a little more leeway to apply those rules to make sure that they have a lot of teeth,” he said. “One of the things I have proposed … was for the FCC to adopt the back stop to those rules such that if a locality didn’t act on an application within 90 days or 150 days, whichever is relevant, that application would be deemed granted.”
Pai acknowledged that the process of deploying wireless infrastructure still runs into obstacles when filing applications on the state and local level, even with the current 90-day collocation, 150-day new tower shot clock.
“A lot of states and localities have adopted moratoria or otherwise ignore the shot clock in trying to process these applications,” he said. “What the Supreme Court’s decision portends for the FCC, in the long term, is just the streamlined application of the shot clock to a lot of wireless infrastructure, which is essential in this day and age.”
Regulation of applications for wireless systems still needs fine tuning to speed the roll out of broadband, Pai said.
“It becomes incumbent upon the FCC to really study this issue and make sure that states and localities as well as the federal government are standing out of the way, doing what they need to do to keep the public safe, of course, but otherwise standing out the way and letting people deploy this central infrastructure especially in dense urban environments,” he said.
The FCC should issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to clarify that an application has to be acted on within 90 days or 150 days, Pai said.
“Theoretically, I guess we could issue a decision sooner rather than later but given the fact that a lot of time has passed I think it would be nice to make sure all the current commissioners have input, get public input, and get everyone on the same page,” he said.
The ruling also has implications for the commission in terms of on how it approaches its general authority and jurisdiction, as well as towers.
“[The Supreme Court ruling] really is a fundamental decision for the wireless industry and for the FCC,” Pai said. “The court ruled that the FCC did deserve deference from the judicial branch when it was deciding the scope of its authority. And that’s a fundamentally important principal for the FCC written large across the administrative law landscape.”
The U. S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge brought by several municipalities to the FCC’s so-called shot clock, which set time periods of 90 days and 150 days for municipalities to act on collocations and new sites, respectively.
The “Petition for a Writ of Certiorari,” filed by the cities of Los Angeles, San Antonio and Arlington, Texas; Los Angeles County, San Diego County and the Texas Coalition of Cities for Utility Issues, questions whether or not a federal agency can legally determine its own statutory jurisdiction.
Two issues were raised by the municipalities, but the court agreed to hear arguments on only to one of them: whether the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in deferring to the agency’s interpretation of its own jurisdiction. The FCC had determined in the Order adopting the shot clock that it had the authority to interpret the statutory language in Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act to permit inclusion of a shot clock. The Supreme Court declined to grant cert and therefore left undisturbed the FCC’s general authority under the Communications Act to adopt the shot clock, according to William Sill, partner, Wilkinson, Barker Knauer.
“Previously the FCC had found that it had the general authority under the Communications Act [to create the shot clock] and the lower court upheld it,” Sill told AGL Bulletin. “It would appear that there is an independent ground under which the shot clock could be maintained that does not appear to be in play in the court’s decision.”
The court may not hear the case until January of next year, according to Joseph Van Eaton, attorney, Best Best & Krieger.
“But the issue the Supreme Court has decided to address is not just a telecommunications issue,” Van Eaton said in a press release. “The question of how courts should decide whether an agency can define the scope of its own jurisdiction arises in many cases, in many different areas of the law. It is a basic, undecided question of administrative law.”
The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is in the process of implementing changes in the environmental assessment (EA) process that could have an enormous impact on the cost and time involved in for the registration of antenna structures.
The FCC released interim procedural measures, last December, to ensure that environmental effects of proposed communications towers, including their effects on migratory birds, are considered prior to construction. This included changes in FCC Form 854, Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) and the public’s ability to file requests for environmental review.
Under the interim rules, an environment assessment will automatically be required for any tower over 450 feet AGL.
The FCC established a public notice period applicable to all new towers requiring an ASR and certain modified or replacement towers requiring an ASR. This procedure requires a local public notice and an national public notice through the FCC. The public will have 30 days to file comments objecting to the tower based on environmental grounds. During the 30-day posting period on the FCC website, members of the public may submit requests for further environmental review if they believe that a proposed tower or tower modification may have a significant impact on the environment.
“This is a big deal,” said Bill Sill, head of Wilkinson Barker Knauer’s tower group, before an audience, May 8, at the Tower Technology Summit in New Orleans. “Currently, if you use the ASR process, once you have filed, it takes 15 minutes to a couple of hours to receive an approval. Once the interim ASR rules go into effect it could take months.”
The FCC will launch a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to evaluate whether the ASR program will remain the same or will become more complex, more expensive and slower, Sill said.
“If the most draconian alternative were chosen, the time involved in ASR approval could slide from several months under the interim ASR rules to years. The cost to the industry could jump from $1.8 million to $42 million a year according to FCC estimates. There is a lot at stake,” Sill said.
For more than five years, a coalition of CTIA, PCIA, NAB and NATE has been involved in putting forth the industry’s positions in the FCC’s migratory bird proceedings and the recent Programmatic Environmental Assessment. Sill noted that the infrastructure coalition and the conservation groups brokered a memorandum of understanding that formed the nucleus of the interim ASR rules. Sill called on the industry as whole to stay involved in the upcoming NPRM.
“The FCC’s challenge is to promote broadband build out as it balances different regulatory mandates but also the conflicting demands of different interest groups,” Sill said in New Orleans. “To keep the ASR system viable, the industry must continue to provide a counterbalance to the advocacy and the data provided by the conservation groups and other special interest groups.”
A live, webcast demonstration of the changes to the ASR filing system was held this morning, which will be available for replay. The environmental notification process and the corresponding rule changes will become effective upon publication in the Federal Register of their approval by the Office of Management and Budget.