In many cases, neighbors who are concerned about amateur tower installations may focus on possible RFI problems as part of their concerns. Local zoning bodies sometimes try and overstep their legal bounds when it comes to zoning and it can cause headaches for amateurs. Local governments must reasonably accommodate amateur operations in zoning decisions as documented by the partial preemption called PRB-1. The legal cite for PRB-1 is: 101 FCC 2d 952 (1985). § 97.15 provides that an amateur station antenna structure may be erected at heights and dimensions sufficient to accommodate effective amateur service communications. See the specific wording later in this chapter. Local authorities may adopt regulations pertaining to placement, screening, or height of antennas, if such regulations are based on health, safety, or aesthetic considerations and reasonably accommodate amateur communications.
Local governments may not, however, base their regulation of amateur service antenna structures on the causation of interference to home electronic equipment--an area regulated exclusively by the Commission. We'll discuss this in detail in the next section. A good statement of FCC preemption of RFI appears in the Memorandum Opinion and Order in WT Docket 02-100. Though not an amateur case, it is very helpful as an FCC statement of policy with respect to RFI.
How does this affect RFI? Some local governments mistakenly believe that if an amateur antenna is lowered, the potential for interference decreases. The FCC has gone on record as stating that there is no reasonable connection between requiring an amateur to reduce the height of his tower and reducing the amount of interference to his neighbor's home electronic equipment. On the contrary, antenna height is inversely related to the strength of the radio signal that serves as a catalyst for interference in susceptible home electronic equipment. The higher that antenna is, the farther away is it from consumer equipment, and the less the interference potential is. It is a matter of technical fact that the higher an amateur antenna, the less likely it is that RFI will appear in home electronic equipment. This statement was made in an October 25, 1994 letter from former FCC Private Radio Bureau Chief Ralph Haller.
For amateurs who are restricted unduly, the Regulatory Information Branch at ARRL HQ makes available the PRB-1 package which is a large packet of information which consists of more than 200 pages of cases, sample ordinances, a communications height effectiveness study as well as the text of PRB-1 and other helpful information. A list of Volunteer Counsels (VCs) is also available on the ARRL Web page. VCs are amateurs who are also lawyers--so that they can give you specific legal guidance. A list of ARRL Volunteer Consulting Engineers is also available on the ARRL Web page. These are hams who are also professional engineers. Some of the PRB-1 package is available on the Web page. The complete package is available to ARRL members for a modest fee and a somewhat higher fee for nonmembers.
PRB-1 is not a "cure all," and it cannot help if you are faced with a covenant or other deed restriction problems. PRB-1 is very specific to Amateur Radio installations and to local government zoning ordinances.
What If You Are Faced With Restrictive RFI Covenants?
Amateurs are faced with two entirely different antenna restrictions. Town and city zoning problems are enforced by that local government and they apply to all its citizens. PRB-1 is helpful in educating local government authorities. Covenant and deed restrictions are entered into voluntarily and they are often extremely restrictive. PRB-1 does not apply in such cases. Covenants can regulate what color a homeowners association member may paint his or her house and include many other possible restrictions, including restrictions on antennas and RFI.
The FCC discussed covenants in PRB-1, and it concluded by saying "Purchasers or lessees are free to choose whether they wish to reside where such restrictions on amateur antennas are in effect, or settle elsewhere." The courts are generally reluctant to interfere with freedom of contract, such private agreements are usually legally upheld.
In situations where the covenant is deemed to "run with the land," the restrictive language does not even need to be in the current contractual agreement if it was included at the time the property was first conveyed. This is the reason land records are checked to see if there are any type of restrictions from years past each time property is bought or sold. ARRL Volunteer Counsel members (hams who are also a lawyers) can give you specific legal advice regarding covenants.