The Texas Association of Broadcasters is drawing attention to a Federal Communication Commission proposal to mandate that broadcasters submit status reports following hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The FCC is weighing broadcaster participation in its web-based Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which is activated in limited emergency situations. Reporting through DIRS has been voluntary since its establishment in 2007.
TAB in comments in its Jan. 19 newsletter encourages the FCC to “remain flexible” in how it collects reports for DIRS to ensure local broadcasters are not forced to neglect their audiences and operations during an ongoing emergency.
“Because local broadcasters have a long history of cooperating in emergencies to share resources, facilities and equipment to ensure all stations can stay on the air delivering important information, mandatory DIRS filings would provide little actionable information to the FCC,” TAB wrote.
The FCC is reviewing comments in its “resilient networks” rulemaking proceeding. Broadcasters have been quick to dissent to this idea, expressing concern over the logistical challenges this reporting requirement could present.
TAB fears cluttering DIRS with mandatory station filings “indicating all is fine” would merely serve to distract from voluntary filings made by stations actively seeking FCC assistance in obtaining fuel for generators or access for station employees to their stations and transmitter sites in a disaster area.
“The FCC should instead focus its efforts on promoting broadcast station resilience in emergencies by working with state, local and other federal agencies prior to a disaster to ensure procedures and resources are in place so that a DIRS filing requesting fuel or help with employee access to a disaster area will lead to rapid governmental assistance to keep stations operating,” it wrote.
A coalition of state broadcast associations, including TAB, filed official comments to the FCC earlier: “DIRS certainly has its place and can be useful for broadcasters in certain situations discussed below, but imposing a universal mandatory filing requirement for broadcast stations would often interfere with getting emergency information out to the public more than it would assist with it,” they wrote.
The National Association of Broadcasters also is on record opposing any move to require broadcaster participation in DIRS, saying it would be “unduly burdensome” and could undermine the FCC’s goal of improving public safety by disrupting stations’ efforts to provide critical information following a disaster.
“Mandating DIRS filings would force stations to redirect their already-strained staff away from trying to maintain or restore service to fill out a government form,” NAB wrote in comments in December. “Many smaller stations simply lack the bandwidth to log in, assess their operational status, and complete DIRS reports in the midst of an emergency.”
NAB adds: “Alternatively, if the FCC still believes that DIRS should be mandatory, perhaps the onus should be on government to create and fund an automated system that identifies which broadcast stations are operating during a disaster.”
The FCC’s NPRM, released in October, also considers adding broadcasters to the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework, which is a mutual aid framework developed by the wireless industry in 2016, Oscar Rodriguez, president of the Texas Broadcasters Association, wrote on TAB’s website: “The [Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative] is designed for monitoring and maintaining common carrier network infrastructure — not a one-to-many content provider.”