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State Broadcast Associations Protest KWVE EAS Fine

Stiff fine for mistake could deter others from volunteering to be LP-1s or PEP stations, they say

Fifty state broadcast associations have signed onto a letter of protest to the Federal Communications Commission about a proposed $5,000 fine against KWVE(FM), San Clemente, Calif., for an EAS mistake by a station staffer.

The concern among the associations is that such a high fine against a volunteer “Local Primary One” (LP-1) station, which begins the daisy chain, will deters others from serving in that role.

The associations represent radio and television stations in all 50 states as well as stations in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In the letter, filed Wednesday at the commission, they ask that the agency either set aside the fine or simply admonish the station.

The case goes back about a year. Calvary Chapel station KWVE transmitted an unauthorized Required Monthly Test of the Emergency Alert System. The FCC received a complaint in October 2008 that the station transmitted commercial programming and an ad as part of the test message, which were then re-transmitted by other stations and cable systems in the daisy chain.

The station told the commission one of its employees had intended to run a scheduled weekly EAS test, but ran the unscheduled RMT instead; the employee also failed to transmit the End of Message code. The station says its beefed up its EAS training and the error has not been repeated.

In its decision last month, the FCC said KWVE’s actions affected other stations and that “the transmission of EAS tones that are followed by a broadcast that is not part of an EAS test or actual emergency information, whether intentional or accidental, compromises the integrity of the EAS system.” It said the action was willful, which KWVE disputes, and that’s why it proposed a $5,000 fine.

In their letter this week, the associations reminded the commission that KWVE is a volunteer LP-1. They are concerned, they wrote, that if the commission imposes a substantial fine against an LP-1 for a mistake, it would deter current LP-1s as well as current Primary Entry Point stations from continuing to participate voluntarily in EAS. The broadcast associations fear the fine would also have a chilling effect preventing new stations from serving as LP-1s or PEP stations.

“The loss of a single LP1 station can cause a state’s EAS plan to be in non-compliance. If multiple LP-1 stations give up their ‘volunteer’ role in an operational area … the daisy chain would be broken, and there would be a disconnect between presidential and gubernatorial EAS alerts for that area,” the broadcast associations argued.

Noting the commission’s efforts in trying to modernize EAS and upgrade the technology of alerting, the associations urged the agency to refrain from taking action that might have unintended consequences, that could, in turn, work against the steps being taken to improve EAS.