Some larger system operators were forced to seek exemptions
on deadlines to install new federally mandated emergency-alert systems, as they had yet to
put in the hardware.
Under the new policy, systems with 10,000 or more customers
must now be able to provide audio and video emergency alerts continuously on one channel,
and video and audio interruptions across all cable channels, to warn consumers of weather
and other emergencies. Smaller systems will not have to comply with the policy until 2002.
In the year-end rush to install the hardware, some systems
had to tell the Federal Communications Commission that they weren't going to make it.
For instance, Falcon Cable TV Corp. was still awaiting the
delivery of equipment for some 90 systems, said Ray Tyndall, the MSO's vice president
of engineering. However, the company was able to produce its purchase orders, which the
FCC took as a sign of good faith that the systems will be installed in short order.
MediaOne Group Inc. also has yet to install the EAS
hardware in 11 of its locations, said Greg Beveridge, the MSO's vice president of
engineering strategies. He cited equipment delays for some of the problems, but in some
communities -- such as Hanford and Corona, Calif. -- the company got a break from the FCC
because it anticipates upgrading the whole headend in those cities.
Cable engineers and suppliers said several factors
contributed to equipment delays. The final decision on EAS policy came late in the
calendar and budget year. Then, some operators waited too long to place their orders.
Also, EAS implementation is truly a system-by-system
proposition. Each headend is an amalgam of technologies. And many chips and comb filters
come from offshore, adding to delivery time.
"A supplier would have to maintain $10 million worth
of stock to provide all of the combinations," one supplier said.
Once the equipment is on-site, implementation goes
smoothly, engineers said.
But systems still face challenges. Once operators begin
monthly or weekly tests, customer-service representatives must be ready to take calls from
subscribers complaining about the new system disrupting their overnight videotaping.
And deployment differs by community. Falcon executives are
working with Washington state localities to decide when to run the tests. The towns that
Falcon serves are near nuclear-power plants, and the communities are concerned that the
national EAS signal will interact with local radiation-leakage alarms and wake everyone
Some Charter Communications systems will comply with a
local request to add signals from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to
The Weather Channel has developed an on-air spot to warn
customers about the new test system, and Jones Intercable Inc. is among the operators that
will be using branded copies of the 30-second commercial to explain the system.