The FCC last week did an about face on a fine for a violation of the EAS rules, canceling a fine issued to a broadcaster who had violated the rules and instead issuing only an admonition. This case resulted when a local primary EAS station, KWVE, one monitored by other stations and cable systems for test messages and alerts, ran the wrong EAS test – running a required monthly test in lieu of the weekly test that was supposed to run. The problem was compounded when the on-duty operator somehow stopped the test in the middle. By doing so, the End of Message ("EOM") code was never sent or received, so some stations that were passing through the alert simply continued to run audio from the primary station, including the religious programming that the station featured and a commercial message from that station. One viewer of a cable system that picked up the test complained to the FCC, and the FCC issued a fine in the amount of $5000 – the fine which was vacated last week.
The initial fine had resulted in criticism from many diverse broadcast groups and associations – including many state broadcast associations and engineering groups. This station was volunteering to act as the primary station for the area – taking on additional EAS responsibilities to initiate tests and otherwise be responsible for potentially originating and relaying important emergency information. Here, as a result of an inadvertent error, the station made a one-time mistake. The protesting groups argued that the Commission’s fine set a bad precedent, one which would discourage stations from volunteering for responsibilities under this and possibly under other programs which could benefit the public, if the result was that the stations were subjecting themselves to substantial liability for even the tiniest, inadvertent infractions. And, of course, this error took place in the course of a test – and what’s the purpose of a test but to discover issues with training or execution that need to be corrected in the event of a real emergency. If everyone was already perfect, you wouldn’t need to conduct tests. The Commission decision this week, to back off the fine and just issue a warning was seemingly a correct one – and should be applauded.