Whidbey Telecom weighs in on radio towers

By Meg Olson

Whidbey Telecom has joined a line of formal and informal complainants to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking they only approve BBC Broadcasting’s application to renew station authorization for KRPI if the company abandons plans to broadcast from a new five-antenna array they are proposing for Point Roberts.

In their August 27 objection, the local telephone and broadband provider stated that “inherent in that renewal would be the authorization for BBC Broadcasting to operate an AM station transmitter in Point Roberts, both daytime and nighttime, at the frequency of 1550 kilohertz and a power of 50 kilowatts.”

The objection provides evidence to support Whidbey Telecom’s claim that the deployment of such an array “carries a very substantial risk of severely disrupting voice and broadband communications at Point Roberts, thereby not only threatening severe economic and social dislocation but also imperiling public safety and border security.”

The company stated it was “extremely concerned over the threat to broadband service,” and that a source of interference such as AM radio waves would likely ensure diminished transmission, “thereby relegating businesses, residences and government facilities that have been able to rely upon such advanced DSL technology to a service rendered unreliable and potentially unusable.”

In addition to the harm to the public good, the company also pointed out “material defects in the notice given to the public” when BBC Broadcasting applied for their license renewal, such as identifying their application to construct a new facility in a new community, operating at a higher power over extended hours, as a “minor amendment.” The FCC approved the construction permit for the new Point Roberts facility in 2012.

Arthur Reber with the Cross Border Coalition to Stop the Towers, which has also filed a formal objection to the license renewal with the FCC, said he was hopeful that Whidbey Telecom’s objection could help the coalition in its upcoming battle in Skagit County Court, where BBC Broadcasting is appealing Whatcom County’s decision to deny its conditional use permit. That decision was based on the county hearing examiner’s ruling that the towers did not meet height requirements, and county code did not provide an exception for radio towers, a decision that Whatcom County Council upheld.

Reber said BBC Broadcasting is arguing the towers constitute an essential public utility that should be exempt from height requirements.

“Not only is this not an essential public utility but it would compromise one,” he said. A court date for the appeal to be heard should be announced in late September.

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