FCC Issues Tag-On EAS Notice

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Just when you thought the Emergency Alerting System rules
were settled, out comes a further notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission
said it was seeking comments on a new set of rules that would bar cable operators from
placing their emergency messages on top of any emergency information coming from
broadcasters.

So far, however, no executives have actually seen any
documentation beyond the press release, and one cable executive who is active on EAS
committees said the actual NPRM doesn't yet exist.

Regardless, cable's position is one of ambivalence, hinged
on cost implications and the need to understand how the FCC gauges the superiority of
emergency-alerting information coming from cable or broadcasters.

"I wouldn't say that we're for or against [prohibiting
cable systems from overriding a broadcast station's EAS messages]," said Steve
Effros, president of the Cable Telecommunications Association (CATA).

In some situations, it does make sense to provide customers
with emergency information from broadcast stations, particularly in cases of weather
dangers, Effros said, because local stations often carry more up-to-date and detailed
information than the EAS messages that cable operators receive and send on to customers.

"We have to look at what the costs would be and at
what the procedures and processes are to accomplish it," Effros added.

Technologically, placing emergency messages on some
channels but not others could be troublesome for EAS systems based on comb-generator
technology, said one cable executive familiar with the ongoing EAS situation, who asked to
speak on condition of anonymity until formalized comments are submitted to the FCC.

"It could get expensive," the executive said.

The FCC said in its announcement about the NPRM that it is
seeking information on any additional costs and equipment needed, as well as on who should
be responsible for those costs -- the cable operator or the broadcast station. It will
also entertain comments about the effects of the proposal on local franchise provisions.

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