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FCC Trying to Visualize New and Improved EAS

NAB sees no need for a “complex redesign” of EAS

The National Association of Broadcasters believes many of the pieces needed to improve emergency alerting in the United States are already in place and no major overhaul of existing EAS is needed.

The FCC’s pursuit of ways to improve the utility of EAS to more effectively reach larger segments of the population, especially persons who are deaf or hard of hearing with more visual alerts, has generated many responses from legacy EAS stakeholders. 

The FCC’s EAS Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in 2021 was part of a broader rulemaking proposal seeking ways to modify the text associated with national EAS messages, including pre-stored templates for NPT messages. It also proposed requiring “triggered” CAP polling by broadcasters.

“NAB agrees with the majority of commenters that, instead of undertaking a complex redesign of the entire legacy EAS system, the FCC should promote broader use of IP-based Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) EAS alerting, and its superior accessibility capabilities, while preserving the legacy EAS system as a vital back-up to ensure EAS continuity when IP networks are disrupted,” NAB said in comments to the FCC.

Polling is an “automatic seek and fetch of the CAP message when the broadcast EAS version is received first,” as described in the FCC proposal. The proposed changes would require radio stations to monitor web-delivered companion alerts. However, requiring stations to poll the CAP EAS server does raise the issue of delays while the CAP message is polled, including timeouts of alerts and message duplication errors, according to some EAS observers.

NAB and others have urged the FCC to encourage, but not mandate EAS participants transition to using CAP as the primary vehicle for most alerts.

Only an emergency management, law enforcement or public safety agency has access to CAP programs to originate EAS activations, according to the FCC.

[Related: “FCC Addresses Wireless Emergency Alerts”]

The NOI asked whether it would make sense to use legacy EAS only for the Emergency Action Notification (EAN) and NPT and require use of CAP for all other alerts. In addition, it asked if legacy EAS can’t be reasonably modified to allow alert originators to distribute text to transcribe a two-minute audio message, whether the legacy EAS architecture should be redesigned altogether.

The redesigning of legacy EAS could carry substantial costs, NAB wrote the FCC, and it remains adamant about not inflicting additional costs upon broadcasters who are required to carry presidential alerts.  

“Changing the legacy system could also decrease its compatibility with the universe of existing EAS receivers in the field. EAS participants would have to upgrade their EAS devices, and in some cases, replace their existing equipment at considerable cost,” NAB said. 

A full redesign of EAS to provide all the capabilities of CAP alerting could be risky, NAB says, for doing so could make the legacy systems less robust by increasing the amount of data that must be transmitted through long distance radio links. That can be negatively affected by the increasing noise floor, NAB said.

In addition, the “millions” of individuals and entities that use National Weather Radio receivers to monitor weather and alert products would be impacted because such radios rely on the legacy EAS protocol, NAB told the FCC.  

NAB concludes its most recent comments: “Accordingly, NAB supports the FCC’s goals in the NOI to further consider ways to improve the accessibility of EAS, however, we support a more practical approach focused on promoting broader, primary use of CAP alerting, while preserving the legacy EAS system as a redundant, more resilient pathway when internet connectivity is disrupted.”

Randy J. Stine has spent the past 40 years working in audio production and broadcast radio news. He joined Radio World in 1997 and covers new technology and regulatory issues. He has a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.

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