New RF Exposure Rules Now in Effect

Posted on May 31st, 2021 by

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology recently announced May 3, 2021 as the effective date for certain RF exposure rules changes originally adopted back in December 2019, as well as the beginning of the two-year review period for existing parties to ensure compliance with the new rules.

The 2019 rule revision changed the methods parties are to use in determining and achieving compliance with the FCC’s limits on human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields.  Specifically, the FCC modified the process for determining whether a particular device or deployment is exempt (i.e., so clearly compliant that the licensee need not undertake a more thorough RF exposure analysis).  The previous compliance method was driven by a service specific list of transmitters, facilities and operations for which evaluation was required.  Now, new streamlined formula-based criteria are to be used to determine compliance, regardless of service.  While OET anticipated that very few parties would have to conduct re-evaluations under the new rules, it adopted a 2-year period for parties to verify and ensure compliance under the new rules.  Stations and tower owners should consult their qualified consulting engineers to ensure compliance under the new rules.

As of May 3, 2021, all new facilities and operations (e.g., broadcast facilities, wireless base stations) will be subject to compliance with the new rules. “New facilities” means facilities authorized on a site-specific basis on or after the effective date of the new rules or, for facilities deployed and operating under existing license authorization or rule part, facilities whose construction and operation is completed on or after that date. A facility will still be “new” for these purposes even if it is located on an existing, registered antenna structure. In addition, any facility or operation that is modified in a way that could affect RF exposure on or after May 3, 2021 also must comply with the new rules no later than the time at which it is modified.

All other licensees and operators of existing facilities and operations will have two years from May 3, 2021 to ensure that they are in compliance with the new rules. This includes parties whose licenses are renewed during the two-year period and those who make modifications that would not affect RF exposure (such as administrative updates). These parties will have to determine whether any of their existing facilities and operations that were previously excluded under the old rules qualify for an exemption under the new rules. If they do not qualify for an exemption, they must perform an evaluation. Facilities and operations that require mitigation must come into compliance with the new, detailed requirements for signage, access control, etc. While these parties may rely upon their compliance with the rules as they existed prior to the RF Report and Order during the two-year period, they must comply with the new rules no later than May 3, 2023 – i.e., the end of the two-year period. There are no additional filing requirements for these parties other than those associated with their regularly scheduled renewals and any modifications they may undertake.

During license renewal, stations must certify to RF compliance in the renewal application.  We encourage stations that have not yet filed for license renewal to contact their consulting engineer to confirm compliance well in advance of the renewal application filing deadline.