The FCC’s recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making outlining changes to the FCC’s Part 11 Rules governing the Emergency Alert System ("EAS") was published in the Federal Register today.  Today’s publication establishes the timing for submitting Comments in this proceeding.  Comments will be due by July 20, with Reply Comments due by August 4th.  By its

At the urging of virtually the entire broadcast and cable industry, as well as the communications engineering community, the FCC today granted an extension of time for broadcasters and other EAS participants to come into compliance with the new CAP reception requirements – putting off the need for compliance until September 30, 2011.  CAP (the Common Alerting

This afternoon, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) adopted the new digital message format for the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard.  The adoption of this message format is the next step in the implementation of Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which expands the traditional Emergency Alert System used by radio and television to

With the recent April 15th publication of an FCC Public Notice in the Federal Register, the due date for Comments regarding possible revisions to the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules has been set at May 17th, with Reply Comments due by June 14.  By this recent Public Notice, the Commission has requested  informal comments regarding revisions to its EAS rules in connection with the forthcoming adoption of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  So what, you might ask, is “CAP”? 

CAP stands for “Common Alerting Protocol” and is the next-generation protocol for distributing emergency warnings and safety notifications.  In technical jargon it is “an open, interoperable, data interchange format for collecting and distributing all-hazard safety notifications and emergency warnings to multiple information networks, public safety alerting systems, and personal communications devices.” In layman’s terms, it will allow FEMA, the National Weather Service, a state Governor, or others authorized to initiate public alert systems to automatically format and even target a specific geographic area and simultaneously alert the public using multiple media platforms including broadcast television, radio, cable, cell phones, and electronic highway signs. CAP will also allow for alerts specifically formatted for people with disabilities and for non-English speakers.

As part of an EAS Order adopted by the FCC back in 2007, the Commission mandated that all EAS participants — which would include radio, television, and cable — must accept CAP-based EAS alerts within 180 days after the date on which FEMA publishes the applicable technical standards for CAP.  According to the FCC, FEMA has recently announced its intention to adopt a version of CAP as early as the third quarter of 2010, which would in turn trigger the Commission’s 180-day requirement.  Given that the Commission’s current EAS rules pre-date the concept of Common Alerting Protocol, the existing EAS rules will likely need significant revision or even replacement once CAP is adopted and implemented. 


Continue Reading Comments Regarding Possible Revisions to FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) Rules due May 17

The FCC has proposed amending its rules governing the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in order to test and improve the effectiveness of the system.  In particular, the Commission has proposed that all EAS participants be required to join in a nationwide test — to be scheduled by the FCC in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — to ensure that the system will function properly to inform the public in the event of a national crisis.  The FCC proposes to implement the national test on a yearly basis and seeks comment on the specific language of the proposed rule.  A copy of the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) was recently published in the Federal Register establishing the deadline for Comments on the proposed rules as March 1, 2010, with Reply Comments due on or before March 30, 2010.

In issuing its NPRM, available here, the Commission acknowledged the shortcomings of the current rules and its belief that a national test — and the data gathered from such a test — is critical to ensuring consistency and reliability in a system that has actually never been used to deliver a national Presidential alert.  Under the current system, an EAS message is initiated, which is then passed via specially encoded messages to a broadcast-based transmission network, and then on to broadcast stations, cable operators, and other EAS participants in a daisy-chain distribution to the final end users, i.e., the public who is listening, watching, or reading, on radio, television, cable, or other services.  This daisy-chain structure leaves the system, in the Commission’s estimation, vulnerable to a significant failure if the message distribution is severed or delayed at any one point.  By proposing an annual national test, the Commission seeks to test the system in an organized, controlled manner, gather data from the EAS participants, and apply what is learned.  Under the Commission’s proposed rule, the annual test would replace one of the required monthly tests and participants would have at least two months advance notice of the nationwide test.  EAS participants would be required to log the test results of the test and provide information on the results to the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau within 30 days of the test.  The Commission seeks input on the proposed rule, including whether once a year is sufficient, and what the costs would be attendant to the testing and reporting.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes National Test of EAS – Emergency Alert System; Comments on Proposed Rules due March 1

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to broadcasters for failure to observe some basic FCC rules.  As there many FCC rules to observe, broadcasters should use the misfortune of others who have suffered from these fines as a way to check their own operations to make sure that they meet all of the required Commission standards.  In the recent cases, fines were issued for a variety of violations, including the failure to have a manned main studio, the failure to have a working EAS system, incomplete public files, operations of an AM station at night with daytime power, and the failure to have a locked fence around an AM tower.  This post deals with the issues discovered at the studios of stations – a separate post will deal with the issues at the transmitter sites. 

The main studio rule violation was a case that, while seemingly obvious, also should remind broadcasters of their obligations under the requirement that a station have a manned main studio.  In this case, when the FCC inspectors arrived at the station’s main studio, they found it locked and abandoned.  Once they were able to locate a station representative to let them into the studio, they found that there was some equipment in the facility, but it was not hooked up, nor was there any telephone or data line that would permit the station to be controlled from the site.  The Commission’s main studio rules require that there be at least two station employees for whom the studio is their principal place of business (I like to think of it as the place where these employees have their desks with the pictures of their kids or their dog, as the case may be, and where they show up in the morning to drink their morning cup of coffee before heading out to do sales, news or whatever their job may be).  At least one of the two employees who report to the studio as their principal place of business must be a management level employee, and at least one of those employees must be present during all normal business hours.  Thus, the studio should never be devoid of human life.  The studio must be able to originate programming, and the station must be able to be controlled from that location so that the employees there could originate programming in the event of a local emergency.  In light of these violations and others, the station in this case was fined $8000.


Continue Reading FCC Inspections – Fines for Violations of Rules on Main Studio, EAS, and Public File