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FCC to Drop “Persistent Alerts” Idea

But it's poised to adopt other proposed EAS rule changes

All signs point to the FCC this week giving the go ahead and updating EAS rules to improve accessibility for those with disabilities, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing who are often unable to access the audio message.

A final draft Report and Order being circulated ahead of the commission’s monthly meeting on Sept. 29 updates EAS rules to require radio and television broadcasters to check for CAP-formatted versions of alerts and use them if available instead of the legacy EAS version. 

The FCC says it will also adopt a 10-second minimum polling requirement to allow broadcasters sufficient time to capture any available CAP version of a received legacy alert — in the vast majority of cases — without causing significant delay in transmitting the alerts. 

“Our rules requiring EAS participants to poll for and prioritize CAP-formatted messages will apply to all EAS alert categories except for alerts with the EAN, NPT or Required Weekly Test (RWT) event codes,” the FCC says in the draft order. 

CAP-based alerts typically provide more information than the corresponding alerts delivered in legacy format, according to the FCC. The commission says the increased use of CAP-based alerts will produce higher-quality audio messages, improve the availability of multilingual alerts and ensure that more of the alerts displayed on television screens contain all of the information provided by the government agencies that initiate them.

[Related: “FCC Pushes for More Accessible Emergency Alerts“]

The NAB had asked the FCC to exempt the CAP prioritization mandate for radio broadcasters. That request has been denied by the FCC, according to the R&O.

In addition, the commission is saying no to “persistent alerts” that would have required broadcasters to continuously loop emergency alerts “that require immediate public protective actions to mitigate loss of life,” according to the draft order.

The idea of a persistent alert was originally suggested by FEMA, according to the FCC, to require an alert to remain on EAS until the alert time expired or was canceled by the alert originator.

“After review of the record, we decline to take further action on this proposal at this time,” the FCC says in the order. “We are not persuaded that implementing this proposal in legacy EAS would be technically feasible, and we take note of the virtually unanimous opposition to the proposal by commenting parties, including alert originators, SECCs, EAS Participants and equipment manufacturers.”

The commission is also “troubled by the possibility that a persistent alert could become outdated or even counterproductive if conditions change as emergency responders address an incident.”

It continued: “For example, a persistent alert in legacy EAS would likely block out all subsequent alerts (except an EAN or NPT) until the valid time period for the original alert expired. During that time, the audio portion of the EAS alert would continuously play, which would drown out the audio of regular programming as well as any emergency news programming that might provide updated information related to the emergency condition not covered in the original EAS alert audio message. 

“The original visual message would continuously scroll until the time period for the alert expired, thus blocking the display of potential updated information that the EAS participant might be attempting to broadcast,” the FCC says.  

The FCC R&O being circulated may also improve the effectiveness of EAS by clarifying outmoded language used in connection with national emergency alerts for video-based services like TV stations, including how such alerts are visually displayed. Such an alert would be labeled as a “National Emergency Message” and the alert originator as the “United States Government” if the R&O is adopted.

In addition, the message sent to the public during national EAS tests would announce a “Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System” rather than a “National Periodic Test,” according to the FCC.

The FCC monthly meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday in the Commission Meeting Room of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.      

From the order: Timing of Compliance —The Commission has adopted a consolidated compliance schedule allowing a full year from the effective date of the Order for entities to comply with all regulatory changes adopted in the Order, instead of requiring multiple compliance timeframes. 

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