Building a new tower or collocating an antenna on an existing structure requires compliance with the Commission’s rules for environmental review. These regulatory processes ensure that appropriate measures are taken to protect environmental and historic resources.
A new tower construction requires
- approval from the state or local governing authority for the proposed site;
- compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
- compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); and may require
- notification to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); and
- Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) with the FCC.
Collocations might also require these same regulatory processes. Refer to the Collocation Agreement and Factsheet for more information about what types of collocations require compliance with NEPA, NHPA, FAA and ASR rules.
Information about each of these processes is outlined below.
State and Local Authorities
Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act preserves state and local authority over zoning and land use decisions for personal wireless service facilities, but sets forth specific limitations on that authority. Specifically, a state or local government may not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services, may not regulate in a manner that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services, must act on applications within a reasonable period of time, and must make any denial of an application in writing supported by substantial evidence in a written record. The statute also preempts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions, assuming that the provider is in compliance with the Commission's RF rules.
Allegations that a state or local government has acted inconsistently with Section 332(c)(7) are to be resolved exclusively by the courts (with the exception of cases involving regulation based on the health effects of RF emissions, which can be resolved by the courts or the Commission). Thus, other than RF emissions cases, the Commission's role in Section 332(c)(7) issues is primarily one of information and facilitation.
The National Environmental Policy Act
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires all Federal agencies to implement procedures to make environmental consideration a necessary part of an agency's decision-making process. As a licensing agency, the Commission complies with NEPA by requiring Commission licensees and applicants to review their proposed actions for environmental consequences. FCC rules implementing NEPA are found at Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Subpart I, rule sections 1.1301 to 1.1319. If a licensee's proposed action falls within one of the categories listed in section 1.1307, section 1.1308(a) requires the licensee to consider the potential environmental effects from its construction of antenna facilities or structures, and disclose those effects in an environmental assessment (EA) which is filed with the Commission for review. The Commission solicits public comment on the EAs and assists its licensees in working with the appropriate local, state, and federal agencies to reach agreement on the mitigation of potential adverse effects. The filing of an EA is required when a proposed facility may have a significant impact on historic properties.
Endangered Species Act
Section 1.1307(a)(3) of the Commission’s rules, 47 C.F.R. §1.1307(a)(3), requires applicants, licensees, and tower owners (Applicants) to consider the impact of proposed facilities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. s. 1531 et seq. Applicants must determine whether any proposed facilities may affect listed, threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitats, or are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any proposed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitats. Applicants are also required to notify the FCC and file an environmental assessment if any of these conditions exist. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provides information that Applicants may find useful regarding compliance with the ESA.
- FWS Delegation Letter
- Online Endangered Species Act Review using IPaC
- Minimizing Habitat Fragmentation
- Minimizing Effects on Prairie Grouse and Sage Grouse
Under the Note to paragraph (d) of Section 1.1307, the Commission requires an Applicant to prepare an environmental assessment that considers the effects on migratory birds when a proposed antenna structure will be over 450 feet above ground level (AGL). However, towers of almost any height have the potential to affect migratory birds, and there are ways tower owners can reduce or minimize these effects. In addition, FWS has formulated and published voluntary guidelines for the siting of towers intended to address potential effects on migratory birds. These guidelines and an accompanying tower site evaluation form are posted at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bird Issues. According to FWS, the guidelines reflect FWS’ judgment of “the most prudent and effective measures for avoiding bird strikes at towers.” Further, in order to reduce avian collisions with antenna structures without jeopardizing aviation safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed a process by which registrants of existing towers over 350 feet AGL may employ red flashing lights without also using red steady lights. As of December 4, 2015, FAA determinations for new towers over 350 feet AGL no longer permit the use of red steady lights.
The National Historic Preservation Act
The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 is one of the federal environmental statutes implemented in the FCC's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules. Under the NHPA, federal agencies are required to consider the effects of federal undertakings on historic sites. Commission licensees and applicants must comply with NHPA procedures for proposed facilities that may affect sites that are listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This process includes consultation with the relevant State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) to consider whether the proposed facility may create an adverse effect on an eligible or listed historic property.
- Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 800, Subpart B.
- Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Home Page
- The FCC released an order granting the application of Mid-Missouri Cellular to construct a tower that would affect a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This order clarifies licensees' responsibilities in complying with the National Historic Preservation Act - MO&O.
The Nationwide Programmatic Agreement
The Commission has entered into two Nationwide Programmatic Agreements (NPA) with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) regarding the Section 106 process for new tower construction. The NPA also provides some guidance on collocation of communications equipment on existing tower structures. General or specific inquiries about the NPA can be submitted to the Commission at NPA Inquiries. Please leave a phone number with your query so the staff can discuss your question with you, if necessary.
- The Nationwide Programmatic Agreement: Learning Interactive Unit
- Nationwide Programmatic Agreement Regarding the Section 106 National Historic Preservation Act Review Process Report and Order
- Advisory Council for Historic Preservation
- Council of Environmental Quality
- National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers
Required FCC Form 620 (new towers) and FCC Form 621 (collocations) are available on the FCC Forms Page. Applicants can submit these forms electronically at Section 106 Submissions. Public Notice DA 05-599 (pdf) provides procedures for submitting to the Commission determinations of no adverse effect when a SHPO has not responded within 30 days. Where the Form 620 or 621 was submitted electronically, these referrals may be made through the E-106 System. Otherwise, they may be made electronically at Section 106 Submissions or in hard copy to the Secretary's office.
Section 106 Tools
- Form 620 (new towers)
- Form 621 (collocations)
- ACHP Delegation Letter for Section 106 Review
- Sample Memoranda of Agreement Under the NHPA - 1
- Sample Memoranda of Agreement Under the NHPA - 2
- Tribal Declaratory Ruling
Indian Tribal Contacts
The Federal Aviation Administration
Notification to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is required for any tower construction or alteration of an antenna structure that is registered with the Commission. Towers that meet certain height and location criteria (generally towers more than 60-96 meters (200 feet) in height or located near an airport) will require notice to the FAA and registration with the FCC. Prior to completing registration with the Commission, an antenna structure owner must have notified the FAA (via FAA Form 7460-1) and received a final determination of 'no hazard' from the FAA.
The FCC's TOWAIR program can be used to determine if a proposed construction meets these FAA notification and FCC registration requirements.
Antenna Structure Registration
The FCC's Antenna Structure Registration program allows the FCC to fulfill its statutory duty to require the painting and lighting of antenna structures that may pose a hazard to air navigation. Upon registration, and based on the recommendation of the Federal Aviation Administration, the FCC will require the structure to be painted and lighted as necessary to make it conspicuous to aircraft.
The Antenna Structure Registration rules are contained in Part 17 of the Commission's Rules (47 C.F.R. 17). Please note that the information contained in these web pages serve as a guide to the FCC's rules concerning antenna structures and is not intended to revise or replace the rules contained in Part 17. See the Digital Television Tower Siting Fact Sheet, Frequently Asked Questions and RF Guide for more information.
FCC Items Related to ASR:
- Report and Order, November 30, 1995: adopts rules to streamline the registration process and began requiring antenna structure owners (instead of licensees) to register these structures with the Commission.
- Memorandum Opinion and Order on Reconsideration, March 8, 2000: clarifies registration requirements.
- Order on Remand, December 9, 2011: adopts procedural measures to ensure, consistent with the Commission’s obligations under federal environmental statutes, that environmental effects of proposed communications towers, including their effects on migratory birds, are fully considered prior to construction. The environmental notification process applies to new tower registrations and to certain modifications of registered towers that may have a significant environmental effect.