News

FCC May Revamp Emergency Alert System

11/21/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Washington— The Federal Communications Commission, faced with an Emergency Alert System it believes could be outdated and inconsistent, has solicited ideas as to how the system might be revamped.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association agreed with the FCC that the system — which sometimes varies from town to town and state to state — is too patchwork and needs a universal set of federal guidelines for responding to emergencies.

But the NCTA also said that in most cases, the current system can be upgraded “and therefore should not be displaced prematurely by any new public warning system.”

Over the past six years, the cable industry has invested about $100 million in EAS technology, as the FCC brought cable systems fully into the fold.

The cable trade group said it favors deploying new technologies so long as they do not jeopardize this investment.

The FCC proposed the changes in August because of new security concerns following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

New digital technology might be rendering obsolete a system that uses analog radio, TV signals and cable systems, the FCC added. One option could be sending emergency messages to cell phones en masse, it said.

The National Association of Broadcasters, filing with the Association for Maximum Service Television, agreed with the Media Security and Reliability Council’s recommendation that EAS be equipped for dealing with widespread power outages that leave AM and FM radio as the only ways to communicate to battery powered receivers.

But they cautioned against concentrating solely on broadcaster mandates when other issues remain unresolved.

There are underfunded state and local EAS programs, the broadcasters said. And in some jurisdictions, local emergency-management personnel don’t know who to contact to activate EAS.

The American Cable Association and Charter Communications Inc. filed separate comments on behalf of small cable providers serving fewer than 5,000 customers — systems already challenged to meet staffing and technological requirements.

The FCC granted temporary waivers for 2,500 small systems, but those expire in October 2005.

Many rural systems might shut down if forced to buy expensive equipment too soon, the ACA said. The result: residents in those areas would receive “no EAS messages” via cable.

“The commission should consider a compliance subsidy and a permanent waiver from EAS requirements for the very smallest of cable systems,” Charter said.

States News Service

March