Alaska's GCI pays FCC $620,000 fine, makes sure unlit towers get lit to improve air safety in remote areas

General Communication, Inc. (GCI) agreed to pay $620,500 for failing to register 118 cell towers as part of an FCC tracking system and for not properly lighting three towers located near airports. GCI says that since the unlit towers were discovered it has sent installers to the towers to make sure they were properly lit to improve safety and avoid any collisions with nearby aircraft.

Prior to constructing or upon acquiring these towers, GCI, based in Anchorage, Alaska, did not register the 118 towers. Three of the 188 were not properly lit in compliance with flight safety rules. GCI spokesman David Morris told FierceInstaller that as of now the three towers are lit and all of the 188 are registered with the FCC.

"Unregistered and unlit towers pose unacceptable risks to air and public safety," Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement last week. "It is essential that communications towers are properly registered prior to construction, as well as properly lighted, to ensure that air traffic is aware of tower locations."

The FCC's Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) system is linked to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations to ensure towers do not present hazards to air traffic. The registration rules generally require tower owners to register with the FCC any tower that is taller than 200 feet or that may interfere with the flight path of a nearby airport. The tower owner must obtain lighting specifications from the FAA and include those specifications in its registration prior to construction.

Morris noted that GCI has acquired four wireless carriers since 2008 but that what triggered the violations was its acquisition late last year of Alaska Communications. Most of the problem involved registration issues, he said. When GCI found out the three towers were unlit the company notified the FAA, which put out a notice to aircraft.

The three unlit towers were in Fairbanks and two remote communities in western Alaska: Buckland and Selawick. All were near airports.

Last year GCI sent workers to the towers to make sure they were properly lit, which involved ensuring they had the proper colored lights and paint markings so that aircraft above could identify them. The issue is of particular concern to GCI and Alaskans in general, Morris said, noting that some remote communities like Buckland and Selawick cannot be reached by car.

"There's not a road system that connects all of these communities," he said. "Air travel is important to be able to provide any type of commerce." As a result, air safety is even more important than normal, so GCI moved quickly to get the towers properly lit.

The FCC worked with GCI to settle the investigation and secure a plan to ensure towers are appropriately registered and lit. Over the next three years GCI will work with the agency to ensure it is properly reporting to the FCC on the issue. GCI committed to reviewing its tower inventory to ensure that all of its towers are compliant with tower registration and lighting rules, and with the FCC's environmental and historic review requirements.

For more:
- see this FCC release 
- see this News Miner article 
- see this KTVA article

Special report: Concealed towers and small cells: Safety and regulation in a growing industry

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