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How Will the Trump FCC Handle Alerting Issues?

A chat with EAS observer Ed Czarnecki

How will the change in administrations affect the world of emergency alerting as it involves broadcasters? We asked one close observer, Ed Czarnecki, senior director, strategy and government affairs, at EAS equipment manufacturer Monroe Electronics and Digital Alert Systems.

Radio World: You work with and around the FCC a great deal on emergency alerting issues. Do you have a sense of either continuity, or non-continuity, with the change of administrations?

Czarnecki: The Trump administration’s positions on public safety and homeland security — and those of Commissioner Ajit Pai himself — may indeed lead to continued FCC activism in emergency alerting — but with a somewhat different approach. The FCC has been extremely active in public safety, issuing more rulemakings and other actions on broadcast EAS and mobile alerting over the past five years than in the past 20 years combined. Inarguably, the FCC’s activity in recent years can be considered more prone to regulating than before.

A Republican-led FCC will likely continue this focus on improving and expanding the nation’s public warning capabilities, alongside more defined cybersecurity requirements for EAS participants. One key area of difference, however, may be the need for the FCC to better define the economic impacts of its proposed rulemakings on industry.

RW: Much attention has focused on Ajit Pai as the new chairman, but you mentioned that we should also watch what Commissioner O’Rielly does. Why, in particular?

Czarnecki: One of the most important changes in the new administration is occurring at the FCC, where Ajit Pai, with a Republican majority of commissioners, will likely pursue a course in stark contrast to Tom Wheeler’s FCC. Pai is a free-market proponent but also known for having a keen interest in public safety, including the modernization of the nation’s public alert and warning capabilities.

Pai’s Republican colleague on the commission Michael O’Rielly may also have a key role to play. Commissioner O’Rielly has been highly critical of initiatives that had little economic impact analysis. He has, for example, voiced sharp dissents over flaws in the cost/benefit analyses presented by FCC bureaus in their proposed rulemakings. I think this is an important point, because the costs and benefits of many enhancements to EAS are going to become increasingly more complex to calculate. A more business-oriented commission may result in FCC EAS initiatives needing to have a better grounding on the economic impacts on EAS participants, EAS manufacturers and even the general public.

A pro-business commission majority may just reinforce the need for FCC initiatives to better factor in the cost burden on EAS participants.

RW: Any sense from your conversations with FCC staff about likely continuity on certain agenda items like cybersecurity and EAS testing?

Czarnecki: At this point, I can only speak to general impressions, having spoken to a variety past and current staff members. It is still very early, and much will depend on who comes in to lead the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, and whether there are additional staff moves. I anticipate that there will be much continuity on certain agenda items such as cybersecurity, generally improving EAS and CAP, continued EAS testing, etc.

On the other hand, I suspect — again depending on who takes the help at the PSHSB — that concepts like “crowdsourcing alerts” may go to the back burner. I suspect that that multilingual alerting may face a tougher road, as well. We shall see.

RW: What else should we know or be looking for?

Beyond EAS and emergency communications, we could see a lessening of some regulatory burdens on broadcasters — in line with Trump’s general stated agenda to lessen regulatory burdens on all businesses. This is a philosophy shared by both the president and Commissioner Pai. For the broadcast industry, there could be an eventual turnaround at a Republican-led FCC to loosen up some local or national ownership rules, such as the archaic broadcast-newspaper cross ownership rules. It’s possible we may see a loosening in certain reporting and filing requirements, if this pro-business agenda plays out. Again, however, we may actually see an increase in activity in some areas – such as cybersecurity, the EAS and public safety communications.

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