Skip Navigation

Federal Communications Commission

English Display Options

Commission Document

Waiver Grant to Allow Annual Inspection of Tower Structure Lighting

Download Options

Released: January 18, 2013

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

Before the

Federal Communications Commission

Washington, D.C. 20554

)
In the Matter of
)
)
)

Southern Company Services, Inc.
)
Request for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b)
)
)

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Adopted: January 18, 2013

Released: January 18, 2013

By the Associate Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau:

I.

INTRODUCTION

1.
This Memorandum Opinion and Order addresses the request of Southern Company
Services, Inc. (“Southern”) for waiver of Section 17.47(b) of the Commission’s Rules, 47 C.F.R. §
17.47(b). Section 17.47(b) provides that the owner of any antenna structure that is registered with the
Commission and has been assigned lighting specifications pursuant to Part 17 “[s]hall inspect at intervals
not to exceed 3 months all automatic or mechanical control devices, indicators, and alarm systems
associated with the antenna structure lighting to insure that such apparatus is functioning properly.”1
2.
Southern argues that the quarterly inspections of antenna monitoring systems mandated
by Section 17.47(b) of the Rules have been rendered unnecessary because of technological advancements
associated with the particular monitoring system that it employs -- the MegaSys Telenium® network
management system employing DPS Telecom NetGuardian® Remote Terminal Units (“MST System”).
Southern and its affiliates currently own and operate approximately 96 antenna structures that are both
subject to the lighting requirements of Part 17 and monitored by the MST System.2 Southern asks the
Commission to waive Section 17.47(b) and instead permit annual inspections of all its antenna structures
monitored with this system. For the reasons set forth below, we grant Southern its request for relief,
subject to a condition to ensure monitoring for photocell failure and low flash energy.

II.

BACKGROUND

3.
The Commission and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have previously granted
waivers of Section 17.47(b) to antenna structure owners who demonstrated that they were operating safe
and reliable monitoring systems that provide sufficiently robust monitoring of the control devices,
indicators and alarm systems so as to render quarterly inspections unnecessary.3 Notably, the Airspace


1 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b).
2 In the Matter of Southern Company Services, Inc. Request for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b), Request for
Waiver, filed July 18, 2012 (Southern Waiver Request) at 2, 4-5.
3 See e.g., In the matter of Requests of American Tower Corporation and Global Signal, Inc., to Waive Section
17.47(b) of the Commission’s Rules, WT Docket No. 05-326, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 22 FCC Rcd 9743
(2007) (ATC/GSI Waiver Order); In the matter of Petition of Optasite Towers L.L.C. for Waiver of Section 17.47(b)
(continued....)

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

and Rules Group of the Federal Aviation Administration has stated that it is not opposed to such waivers
“provided the applicant can demonstrate a safe and reliable automatic monitoring system with tracking
mechanisms to evaluate the remote monitoring technology.”4
4.
Southern filed its instant waiver request on July 18, 2012 and, pursuant to a request by
the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, supplemented it via letter on November 20, 2012.5 Southern
asserts in its request that the MST System employs sophisticated, self-diagnostic functions that are
sufficiently robust and similar to those used in the monitoring systems employed by previous waiver
recipients to warrant the granting of its Request for Waiver. 6 In support, Southern sets forth the relevant
features of the MST System in detail.7

III.

DISCUSSION

5.
Section 1.925 of the Commission’s Rules provides that, with respect to wireless
telecommunications services, the Commission may grant a request for waiver if it is shown that: “(i) The
underlying purpose of the rule(s) would not be served or would be frustrated by application to the instant
case, and that a grant of the requested waiver would be in the public interest; or (ii) In view of unique or
unusual factual circumstances of the instant case, application of the rule(s) would be inequitable, unduly
burdensome or contrary to the public interest, or the applicant has no reasonable alternative.”8 As
discussed below, we grant a waiver to Southern because we find that application of the quarterly
inspection requirements of Section 17.47(b) to the towers in question is not necessary to serve the
underlying purposes of the rule, and grant of the waiver is in the public interest. Based on the evidence
presented, strict application of the rule to Southern would be unduly burdensome and contrary to the
public interest.
6.
Southern asserts that the MST System is a “safe and reliable monitoring system with
tracking mechanisms to evaluate the remote monitoring technology, and the features of this system
provide robust monitoring of control devices, indicators and alarm systems,” within real time, “so as to
render quarterly inspections unnecessary.”9 Specifically, Southern maintains that the MST System


(...continued from previous page)
of the Commission’s Rules, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 22 FCC Rcd 18456 (WTB 2007) (Optasite Waiver
Order
); In the matter of Crown Castle USA Inc. Request for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b), Memorandum Opinion
and Order
, 22 FCC Rcd 21881 (WTB 2007) (Crown Castle Waiver Order); In the matter of Request of Global
Tower LLC for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b), Memorandum Opinion and Order, 23 FCC Rcd 16531 (WTB 2008)
(Global Tower Waiver Order); In the matter of TowerSentry LLC Request for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b) and
Joint Petition of Diamond Communications LLC and Diamond Towers LLC for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b),
Memorandum Opinion and Order, 24 FCC Rcd 10274 (WTB 2009) (TowerSentry/Diamond Waiver Order); In the
matter of Request of Mobilitie, LLC for Waiver of 47 C.F.R. § 17.47(b), Memorandum Opinion and Order, 24 FCC
Rcd 11949 (WTB 2009) (Mobilitie Waiver Order).
4 Brief Comment of Office of Airspace and Rules, FAA, WT Docket No. 05-326, filed December 4, 2006.
5 See Letter from Jeffrey L. Sheldon, Fish & Richardson P.C., to Jeffrey S. Steinberg, Deputy Chief, Spectrum and
Competition Policy Division, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (November 20, 2012) (Southern Supplement).
This additional information was provided in response to a request by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s
Spectrum and Competition Policy Division. See Letter from Jeffrey S. Steinberg, Deputy Chief, Spectrum and
Competition Policy Division, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, to Jeffrey L. Sheldon, Fish & Richardson P.C.
(September 24, 2012).
6 Southern Waiver Request at 4, 8.
7 Southern Waiver Request at 3-9; Southern Supplement at 1-6.
8 47 C.F.R. § 1.925(b)(3).
9 Southern Waiver Request at 9.
2

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

“performs the functional equivalent of a continuous inspection of the alarms, control devices and
communications links on all of Southern’s towers that are required to be lit. As a result, Southern is
alerted to actual and potential problems almost immediately.”10 In support of these contentions, Southern
describes the following features of the MST System:
(1) Alarm notification. At each tower site having aviation obstruction lighting, Southern has
deployed a DPS Telecom NetGuardian® Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) that monitors, at a
minimum, beacon/strobe failure, sidelight failure, beacon/strobe communication failure, site
communication failure, missed flashes, and loss of A/C power.11 Further, the RTU is capable of
monitoring for photocell failure and low flash energy, and Southern plans to verify that the
system is configured to transmit alarms for these failures at each tower no later than the next
quarterly inspection cycle.12 If a light is extinguished, or if the RTU loses communication with a
sensor, an alarm signal will be sent by the RTU back to Southern’s Infrastructure Operations
Center (IOC). IOC personnel will perform remote diagnostics in an attempt to verify whether the
light is actually extinguished or whether there is a problem with the monitoring system. If, within
30 minutes, IOC personnel cannot verify that the light is working properly, they will open an
Incident Case, request a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) from the nearest Flight Service Station
(FSS) or the designated FAA authority for receiving and processing NOTAM requests, and
record with the Incident Case the number assigned to the NOTAM and the initials of the attendant
receiving the NOTAM request.13 IOC personnel will also submit a request to the Field
Operations technician responsible for the site to conduct an on-site inspection of the lighting
system within next two days. If the Field Operations personnel are unable to correct failure of a
light within 15 days after issuance of the NOTAM, the Incident Case will be escalated within the
company and IOC personnel will request an extension of the NOTAM. 14
(2) 24-hour polling. Southern uses its corporate wide area network (“WAN”) to transport alarm
signals from the RTUs to the monitoring system at the IOC. Southern’s WAN consists of an
extensive network of microwave radio and fiber optic transport facilities that are designed with
redundant paths to ensure uninterrupted service.15 IOC personnel are alerted almost immediately
if there is any loss of communication with an RTU or with any of the sensors.16 If the system
loses communications with an RTU at a communications site with a tower lighting system, the
incident is treated as if it were a loss of lighting at the tower site until the IOC can verify whether
it is in fact a loss of lighting or just a loss of communications with the RTU. If communication
with the RTU is not restored and/or IOC personnel cannot verify within 30 minutes that the tower
lights are functioning properly, the IOC will open an Incident Case and request a NOTAM.17


10 Id at 4.
11 Southern Supplement at 2.
12 Id.
13 Southern Waiver Request at 5-6; Antenna structure owners “shall report immediately by telephone or telegraph to
the nearest Flight Service Station or office of the Federal Aviation Administration any observed or otherwise known
extinguishment or improper functioning of any top steady burning light or any flashing obstruction light, regardless
of its position on the antenna structure, not corrected within 30 minutes.” 47 C.F.R. § 17.48(a). See FAA Circular
AC-70/7460-1K, Chapter 2, Light Failure Notification.
14 Southern Waiver Request at 6.
15 Southern Supplement at 5.
16 Southern Waiver Request at 7-8.
17 Southern Supplement at 5.
3

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

(3) Manual contact. Southern’s monitoring system allows technicians to manually contact tower
sites, check the status of RTUs and sensors, generate alarms, and clear false alarms. These
functions enable technicians to confirm the operational status of any given tower lighting system
at any time.18
7. The MST System employs an IOC that is staffed with trained personnel capable of
responding to alarms 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.19 Southern also maintains a back-up IOC as
part of its disaster recovery process that can be quickly activated in the case of a catastrophic loss of the
primary IOC or other emergency.20 Southern’s IOCs are located in Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham,
Alabama. The geographic separation between IOCs (approximately 120 miles) minimizes the potential
for both sites to be adversely affected by the same event. The IOCs are designed with redundancy and
failsafe mechanisms, and have special security procedures in place. In the unlikely event that the primary
IOC were to fail, the secondary IOC could be initialized in as little as 15 minutes, with full staffing of the
secondary IOC dependent on how quickly personnel could be relocated from the primary IOC or
additional personnel could be called-in from their homes if the primary IOC were to fail at night. Until
the secondary IOC can be fully staffed, system monitoring can be maintained through remote internet
access. The IOCs are also equipped with redundant servers that are backed up continuously. Thus, if the
primary IOC were to fail or the server at the primary IOC were to go off-line or fail to function properly,
switchover to the redundant server at the secondary IOC would occur immediately. In the extremely
unlikely event that both IOCs were to fail, Southern would deploy personnel to key sites throughout its
operating area, including its communications sites, to monitor and manage critical electric and
communications system components, including tower lighting systems.21 In addition, Southern’s IOC has
the ability to communicate during sustained outages of commercial electric power through batteries and
on-site diesel generators that can run for an extended period without commercial electric power. 22 All of
Southern’s towers that must be lit per FAA and FCC requirements also have backup power to the lighting
systems as well as to the RTUs and other components of the tower light monitoring system. If an antenna
site were to suffer a loss of power, or if an RTU were to cease communicating with the IOC for any other
reason, the system would signal an alarm, and IOC personnel would immediately investigate the nature of
the problem and, if not cleared within 30 minutes, request a NOTAM.23 Southern has generators that will
maintain power at the site without refueling for at least seventy two (72) hours and contracts in place with
fuel suppliers throughout its service territory to ensure that generators will be refueled on a timely and
continual basis in the event of an extended loss of commercial power.24
8.
The technology that the MST System employs is similar to that exhibited by the
monitoring systems employed by ATC, GSI, Optasite, Crown Castle, Global Tower, Diamond, and
Mobilitie, which were each granted waivers based on the efficacy of that technology. These systems are
similar in that they all have a continuous and permanent two-way link between the tower site and the
response center;25 timely reporting of potential problems;26 continuously staffed response centers;27 24-


18 Southern Waiver Request at 8.
19 Id. at 6, 8.
20 Id.
21 Southern Supplement at 4.
22 Southern Waiver Request at 6, 9.
23 Id. at 7, 9.
24 Southern Supplement at 3.
25 Southern Waiver Request at 3-4, 8.
26 Id. at 4-5, 7-8.
4

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

hour polling of both lighting and communications systems;28 on demand interrogation capabilities;29
backup response centers;30 and essentially uninterrupted communications between the response center and
the towers during power outages.31
9.
In order to ensure reliable monitoring for all conditions that could affect aircraft
navigation safety, we limit relief, as agreed to by Southern, to those towers where the system is
configured to report both photocell failure and low flash energy as part of the overall monitoring system.32

10.
Southern states that, particularly for towers in rural and difficult-to-reach locations,
quarterly inspection imposes a substantial and unnecessary resource burden. Southern estimates that it
spends approximately $75,000 annually conducting 384 quarterly inspections.33
11.
For the reasons cited by the Commission in the ATC/GSI Waiver Order and by the
Bureau in subsequent orders, we conclude, based upon the evidence submitted in the record by Southern,
that the Southern Waiver Request establishes that quarterly inspections are unnecessary for those towers
monitored by the MST System, provided the system is configured at the tower to report photocell failure
and low flash energy.34 We conclude that the MST System is a safe and reliable monitoring system with
tracking mechanisms to evaluate the remote monitoring technology, and that features of this system
provide sufficiently robust monitoring of the control devices, indicators and alarm systems so as to render
quarterly inspections unnecessary. Indeed, such advanced technology provides the benefits of more rapid
response where there has been a lighting failure, and thus the public interest is served with respect to
aircraft safety. We therefore grant Southern’s waiver request.

IV.

CONCLUSION

12.
For the reasons discussed above, we waive Section 17.47(b) to allow Southern to conduct
the required inspections on an annual rather than a quarterly basis of its antenna structures monitored by
the MST System at which Southern has verified that the alarm outputs are properly configured to report
photocell failure and low flash energy to Southern’s IOC. The MST System reliably diagnoses problems,
including any failures of control devices, indicators and alarm systems, within real time, and therefore
renders strict application of the rule unnecessary to serve its underlying purpose. Moreover, our action
will relieve Southern of the burden of performing unnecessary quarterly inspections. In addition, granting
Southern’s waiver will further encourage tower owners to invest in state-of-the-art technologies so that
they too will become capable of continuous monitoring of both their lighting systems and control devices.
13.
We note that the Commission has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking
comment on proposed changes to part 17 of the Commission’s rules, including Section 17.47(b), and the


(...continued from previous page)
27 Id. at 6, 8.
28 Id at 7-8.
29 Id. at 5, 8.
30 Id. at 6, 8.
31 Id. at 6-8.
32 Southern Supplement at 2.
33 Southern Waiver Request at 2.
34 ATC/GSI Waiver Order, 22 FCC Rcd at 9747, 9748, ¶¶ 11, 17; Optasite Waiver Order, 22 FCC Rcd at 18456, ¶ 8;
Crown Castle Waiver Order, 22 FCC Rcd at 21884, ¶ 9; Global Tower Waiver Order, 23 FCC Rcd at 16531, ¶ 9;
TowerSentry/Diamond Waiver Order, 24 FCC Rcd 10274, at ¶ 10; Mobilitie Waiver Order, 24 FCC Rcd 11949, at ¶
8.
5

Federal Communications Commission

DA-13-75

waiver that we grant today is subject to any rule changes that the Commission may promulgate in that
proceeding.35

V.

ORDERING CLAUSE

14.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, pursuant to Sections 4(i), 303(q), and 303(r) of the
Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §§ 154(i), 303(q), 303(r), and pursuant to Sections
0.131, 0.331, and 1.925 of the Commission’s Rules, 47 C.F.R. §§ 0.131, 0.331, 1.925, that the Request
for Waiver filed by Southern IS GRANTED subject to the condition stated herein.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Jane E. Jackson
Associate Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau


35 In the Matter of Amendments to Modernize and Clarify Part 17 of the Commission’s Rules Concerning
Construction, Marking and Lighting of Antenna Structures, RM 11349, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 25 FCC
Rcd 3982, 75 FR 28517 (2010).
6

Note: We are currently transitioning our documents into web compatible formats for easier reading. We have done our best to supply this content to you in a presentable form, but there may be some formatting issues while we improve the technology. The original version of the document is available as a PDF, Word Document, or as plain text.

close
FCC

You are leaving the FCC website

You are about to leave the FCC website and visit a third-party, non-governmental website that the FCC does not maintain or control. The FCC does not endorse any product or service, and is not responsible for, nor can it guarantee the validity or timeliness of the content on the page you are about to visit. Additionally, the privacy policies of this third-party page may differ from those of the FCC.