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FCC Shifts Course on Text-to-Speech

Broadcasters need not deactivate that capability, at least for now

The debate over “text to speech” technology within the CAP EAS system is likely to continue, but now broadcasters don’t have to sweat an April deadline to turn off that capability.

The FCC has changed its recent course and will allow the use of TTS, optionally. The commission thus defers rather than prohibits the conversion of emergency alerts from text to speech.

As RW has reported, FEMA and a number of industry groups pushed FCC to reconsider its prohibition.

The change had been circulating among the commissioners in recent days.

Thomas Beers, chief of the Policy Division for the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, appeared here at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. He asked for a show of hands of how many attendees in the room were “chagrined or distressed” at the ban. Everyone, some 50 or so broadcasters, public safety officials or vendors involved in alerting, raised their hand.

Beers explained that when the FCC has a proceeding, the agency can only make a decision based on what’s in the record. “We didn’t have a lot in the record that convinced us we could go another way.” Now, it does, he said.

FEMA, NAB and EAS gear manufacturers had worried that the ban on TTS would result in emergency messages delivered to stations with either distorted or no audio, just tones.

Ed Czarnecki of manufacturer Digital Alerting Systems told RW that the FCC “heard an impressive consensus from across industry on the need for text-to-speech conversion, including clear input from emergency managers, broadcasters, EAS equipment manufacturers and others. The commission should be recognized for its speedy resolution of this issue, in time for the revised Part 11 rules to come into effect on Monday, April 23.”