The conversion of EAS alerts from text to speech by broadcast stations and cable systems, through systems contained in the stations and systems EAS equipment, was prohibited in the FCC’s Fifth Report and Order (summarized here) implementing the rules for the technology for the Common Alerting Protocol – the Internet-based alert system that must be activated by stations and systems by June 30.  After objections to the text-to-speech prohibition raised by the Federal Emergency Management Administration and many other broadcast and technical groups, the FCC reviewed and eliminated that restriction in an Order released late last week.  That order will be effective immediately on its publication in the Federal Register, allowing participants in EAS to use text-to-speech if they want to – not making it mandatory, but also not prohibiting its use as had the Fifth Report and Order.

FEMA and the other parties that complained to the Commission suggested that the prohibition on text-to-speech technologies would actually result in less information about certain alerts being conveyed to the public.  The Commission was concerned that automatic text-to-speech conversion could result in inaccurate or misleading information being conveyed to the public from a system that it concluded was not yet perfect.  The objecting parties disputed that any glitches were serious enough to mandate the prohibition against the use of such systems.  For instance, broadcasters and others in Washington State already are using a text-to-speech system.  The objecting parties also pointed out that the technology was such that warnings sent using the CAP system without audio already attached might actually cut warnings broadcast on stations short before the public knew the basis of the alert, and even if they didn’t, the 90 character limit imposed on textual warnings broadcast through the current SAME system would be insufficient to provide the kinds of information possible through text-to-speech systems.  Even National Weather Service alerts are to be formatted in a way so as to use text-to-speech capabilities.  Thus, prohibiting the use of text-to-speech might impede the delivery of such warnings

Given these objections, the FCC revoked its prohibition on the use of text-to-speech systems in EAS, making such use optional for broadcasters.  The rule was adopted to become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, so that all stations that have to comply with CAP will be able to use text-to-speech systems, if they so desire, by the June 30 implementation deadline.