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NAB Says EAS Modernization Requires a Software-Based Approach

The group wants to provide another option to supplement "obsolete" hardware

A software-based solution for EAS operations would improve the alert system’s readiness and cybersecurity while promoting the objectives of the FCC, so said the National Association of Broadcasters in a new ex parte filing with the commission. 

Broadcasters are currently required to operate hardware EAS encoders/decoders.

NAB officials recently met with the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to discuss its software-based EAS proposal. They were joined in the discussion by Steve Shultis of New York Public Radio, Jeff Littlejohn and Alan Jurison of iHeartMedia and Roswell Clark of Cox Media Group. 

The proponents of EAS software said hardware solutions are becoming obsolete, with EAS hardware often the only un-virtualized component in a radio station’s air chain. They said a software-based solution could also better support EAS enhancements, according to the filing. Additionally, a software-based approach would significantly reduce or eliminate the downtime needed to repair malfunctioning equipment and easily install security-related software patches.

Other benefits detailed include software’s ability to immediately failover to standby equipment if needed due to a power failure, and improvements to EAS system monitoring and data collection, NAB said in the ex parte letter.

“Finally, a software-based approach would make it easier to improve EAS functionality, such as facilitating the FCC’s aim to improve the accessibility of EAS for persons who primarily speak a language other than English,” NAB wrote.

Enhancing multilingual abilities of EAS has been a primary focus of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s effort to improve public alerting in this country. The current EAS hardware infrastructure at radio stations limits its multilingual capabilities, NAB said. The commission is currently considering another that would require broadcasters to have the capability to deliver EAS alerts in 14 languages, including English and Spanish.

In the disclosure statement recapping the meeting, the NAB’s Larry Walke told the FCC that the advocacy group agrees with FEMA’s assessment that the costs of the FCC’s proposal to launch additional multilingual alerts utilizing current EAS hardware boxes and pre-canned generic EAS messages will outweigh any minor, speculative benefits.  

The NAB first raised the idea of a software-based solution for EAS equipment, sometimes referred to as virtualization, in 2022. At that time, the FCC was considering its own proposal to secure broadcasters’ EAS equipment, which is connected to the internet, from outside hackers and other cyber threats — a mission that continues today.

At the end of June, Rosenworcel circulated a draft final rules proposal that, if adopted, would require broadcasters to implement cybersecurity risk management plans.

The use of software-based EAS architecture would be optional for broadcasters, NAB said in the filing. There would be no “mandatory adoption requirements.” Having the option would give broadcasters an opportunity to use any new software EAS products that function seamlessly within the existing EAS architecture.

NAB said it has support for its software-based EAS proposal from both broadcasters and FEMA. “After in-depth discussions, the FEMA IPAWS staff expressed a clear endorsement of NAB’s proposal and encouraged us to make the FCC aware of their position,” according to the filing. 

The group also clarified in the meeting with the FCC that its proposal “contemplates a software-defined mechanism located at the edge of a broadcaster’s operation; thus, it would still operate if internet or cloud connectivity is interrupted. (In the meeting) NAB averred that it is not advocating for a fully cloud-based approach.”

In its summary, NAB said some EAS equipment manufacturers may be hesitant about the software-based architecture due to a lack of clarity on how this would be supported by FCC rules. Radio World previously reported that at least one EAS equipment manufacturer worried the suggestion by broadcasters to move to a software-based EAS is merely an attempt to dodge the expense of purchasing updated EAS hardware and boxes.  

Digital Alert Systems told the FCC in comments several years ago that “virtualization (in the form of moving critical EAS operations into a software-only or cloud environment) presents multiple challenges.”

NAB said the goal of the meeting with the commission was to gain feedback from the government agency on how to move forward. 

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