GCI fined $620K for cell tower violations

General Communications Inc. has been fined more than $620,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for failing to properly register 118 cellphone towers with a federal system.

The fine was announced Tuesday by the FCC, which also stated that three of the towers — one in Fairbanks and two in Western Alaska — were not lighted or improperly lighted, potentially posing a threat to aircraft.

“The vast majority just had to do, literally, with the paperwork,” said GCI spokesman David Morris on Wednesday.

The federal Antenna Structure Registration system records the location of all tall antennae in the United States, partially to ensure they don’t pose a hazard to aircraft.

According to FCC documentation, GCI discovered the problem after it acquired Alaska Communications’ share of the two companies’ joint cellphone network in mid-2013. After the acquisition, GCI took stock of the network’s cellphone towers.

“Specifically, GCI found that various antenna structures located near airports or otherwise requiring registration had not been registered,” FCC documentation states.

“What occurred is that we’ve acquired four different cellular companies in the last seven years,” Morris said.

The four companies were Alaska Digitel, United Utilities, Alaska Wireless and ACS’ wireless service.

Not until the ACS acquisition took place did GCI perform a complete survey of its cell towers and discover the problem.

GCI reported the problem to the FCC, which found that the company was in violation of the Communications Act of 1934. Not only were the towers improperly registered, but many had been built without environmental assessments — processes that ensure the tower doesn’t cause environmental harm and isn’t being built on a historic or culturally sensitive site.

To settle the violations, the FCC and GCI negotiated a settlement plan that includes proper registration, environmental assessment and a fine of $620,500.

“The agreement we came to will make sure the towers are registered and lit properly, said FCC spokesman Will Wiquist in Washington, D.C.

According to the settlement, GCI has until April 30 to fix all violations, and it must provide followup reports for three years afterward.

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