When finalizing rules about EAS this winter, the FCC deferred action on one
involving text-to-speech software in CAP receivers.
The decision occupied only a paragraph
within a 130-page document, yet it prompted a strong, unusually unified
response from the manufacturing community, FEMA and others who say the
commission is making a dangerous mistake.
The full order stipulates how stations
and other participants receive alert messages formatted in the Common Alerting
Protocol. (Among other outcomes, the FCC dropped a proposed requirement that
stations must accommodate messages from state governors, the so-called
“governor’s must carry” provision.) Stations need to meet various CAP
requirements by June 30, as we have reported.
But the FCC deferred action on text-to-speech for a future proceeding, and blocked use of such
software in the meantime. It cited concerns about the accuracy and reliability
of the technology.
Update: Important Deadline
While TTS supporters wait to see if the FCC will change its mind as discussed in the accompanying story, EAS experts are advising stations that they must disable the TTS capabilities of their EAS CAP gear by April 23. Read more about that here.
In doing so it went against advice from
Industry Group, whose recommendations have played a key role in FCC EAS
implementation. The group had said
that in the absence of attached audio files, EAS devices that handle
text-to-speech should be allowed to create the audio portion of alerts by
constructing audio from the CAP messages.
FCC demurred, saying that performing text-to-speech conversion in EAS equipment
software, as opposed to software an alert message originator might employ, “could
result in differing audio messages being broadcast for the same EAS message,
depending upon which software brand and version a given equipment manufacturer elected
to incorporate into its EAS equipment.”
Numerous suppliers of EAS gear and
services have asked the FCC to reconsider. They include Sage Alerting Systems,
iBiquity Digital, TFT, Monroe Electronics/Digital Alert Systems, Alerting
Solutions Inc., MyStateUSA, Communications Laboratories Inc. (Comlabs) and
Warning Systems Inc.
are members of the ECIG and are involved in EAS in varied ways; some are fierce
competitors. But they told the FCC that their feelings “represent a consensus.”
of “very significant and potentially adverse implications” that would result by
a ban on text-to-speech. The impact on EAS participants and originators, they
wrote, may be “profound,” removing important backup capability where an audio
file from an originator might be missing or damaged. Broadcast radio listeners
might hear only header tones, Attention Signal3 and EOM tones.
“Listeners may know that there is an emergency situation … but they will
have no information about the nature of the emergency,” they wrote. “The
potential for widespread confusion and/or disregard for the EAS could be the
result.” Visual media could have audio components impaired.
CAP EAS originators including FEMA may be affected, because the IPAWS system
uses text-to-speech translation at the CAP receiver. The National Weather
Service CAP feed also relies on text to speech. “Apparently NWS may not
necessarily and consistently create audio files for download construction of
EAS protocol messages by these devices.”
the FCC decision could hurt state aggregator and distribution systems in place
or underway. Dissemination systems might need changes that would cost agencies money
that isn’t available. There could also be unforeseen consequences for people
simultaneously with their comments, FEMA itself petitioned the FCC to
agency — which administers EAS, developed the Integrated Public Alert and
Warning System profile and operates a CAP message aggregator — warned of
unintended consequences that could “severely limit” what local emergency
management officials can do with CAP.
Antwane Johnson, division director of IPAWS, wrote that the FCC
apparently had relied on comments from Sage in support of a marketplace approach
to text-to-speech conversion; but he said the FCC action actually precludes
marketplace activity and discourages further development of the technology for
Also, contrary to what the FCC said, he
could find no evidence of concerns about the accuracy and reliability of
text-to-speech software. And if this prohibition stands, Washington state and
at least two other states would have to “stop using this active, tested method
of alerting the public.” He listed other complications and scenarios too. (I’ve
posted links to his succinct comments as well as those from ECIG at radioworld.com/Apr-11-2012.)
short, FEMA said, the FCC should stick with the original ECIG recommendations.
Alert originators then could provide audio message files if they desire.
In late March, RW reported on our website that an FCC
advisory committee had added their voice. The Communications, Security,
Reliability and Interoperability Council recommended that the FCC reverse the
Alerting company Global Security
Systems also did so, saying the decision would have “severe impact” on the
usefulness of alerts. It repeated arguments that the exemption would force
stations, originators and the interconnecting IP relay networks to seek more
bandwidth, which may not be possible and could “deter the success of the entire
Several state and local emergency management agencies have filed
comments supporting FEMA and ECIG, and I’m told that Nebraska state emergency
planners think they will have to put its state CAP project on hold until a
solution is found.
source told me: “Over half of the states already have a CAP system deployed or
under contract, and there is unanimous consensus among all of the providers of
these systems that the text-to-speech prohibition should be rescinded.”
In early April, the Broadcast Warning Working Group issued
its own strong support of the FEMA request. “Launching CAP-EAS on June 30 of
this year, while at the same time prohibiting the key CAP-EAS benefit of TTS,
makes no sense, and will have the effect of damaging the emerging CAP-EAS IPAWS
OPEN ‘brand’ in the eyes of the public,” wrote the group, which consists of
people involved in various aspects of EAS.
BWWG said Washington state’s experience shows that
text-to-speech is up to the job and that adjustments to difficult word
pronunciations are possible. If the system can support specific pronunciations
of words like Skokomish and Snoqulamie as it does in Washington, the group
argued, TTS implementation can be made to work. It explored other complications
as well. Its comments, too, are at the links page I cited earlier.
Rarely have so many voices in the EAS
community spoken in near-unison. I believe the FCC will overturn the
text-to-speech prohibition. I imagine this might happen quickly.
is but one angle of the ongoing EAS story (details of product certification are
another). It’s interesting to watch how it plays out.
Overall, though, the June 30 CAP compliance deadline stands. Unsure if
your station is in compliance? Ask your station counsel or EAS equipment