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Unusual Extension Highlights Scope of EAS Changes

FCC said additional comment time serves the public interest

Why did the FCC extend the deadline for the public to comment about changes to the Emergency Alert System in the United States?

Behind the scenes, equipment manufacturers and broadcast groups have been mulling over extensive changes that the Federal Communications Commission has proposed for EAS. While much was up for debate on the issue, a consensus became clear: The industry needed more time to comment.

Manufacturer Monroe Electronics was the first to reach out formally to the commission to express concerns about the deadline, saying the industry needed time due to the “sweeping scope” of several sections of the proposed rulemaking. Such requests typically are not granted, the FCC has noted.

Ed Czarnecki, senior director for strategy and global government affairs for Monroe, said that in talking with a range of broadcasters and other organizations, it became evident that many industry groups were not quite ready to submit responses. “We heard enough concern from multiple quarters to take the initiative to file the request.”

Its filing was followed by similar requests from others like the Broadcast Warning Working Group, the Washington State Emergency Communications Committee and the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations, which said several issues necessitated an extension such as the substantial number of changes to state EAS plans, the frequency of live code testing and the proposed use of social media platforms.

“Thankfully, [these] organizations …. all filed supporting comments, so I think the FCC clearly saw that our request was a reflection of a very broad interest across industry,” Czarnecki said.

He said the issues at hand are both technical and political in nature. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is essentially two documents: the first concerning immediate EAS rule changes, the second containing forward-looking questions on alternative architectures for EAS.

“Some folks had focused on the proposed rule changes, and had given scant attention to the commission’s additional questions on EAS architectures. Other folks were attempting to address the entire document, and were concerned that they didn’t have enough time to research the basis of the commission’s questions,” he said.

At least one state EAS committee has been meeting regularly to address as many of the questions as they could, but just needed more time, he said.

There was also the pressing need for some organizations to consider a separate but related issue about early earthquake warning systems, which had the same deadline, as well as the commission’s ongoing open set top box initiative.

“In sum, it was a perfect storm of reasons why we felt a delay was necessary on behalf of many segments of the broadcast and cable industries,” Czarnecki said. “We are hoping that all parties make good use of this additional time to furnish some comments to the commission.”

As the industry culls through the 105-page proposed rulemaking, insiders suggest keeping an eye on several areas: proposals on securing EAS against accidental misuse or malicious intrusion; new security certification requirements; proposed certification obligations placed on specific employees and broadcasters; proposed rules on live code testing; and the potential costs to operations that may occur due to proposed changes.

The proposed changes have long-term implications, and industry groups may be taking a longer time to file on this NPRM because of its complicated nature. “Undoubtedly, this is the case, combined with a number of other items they have on their plates,” Czarnecki said. ”We also noted with some sympathy that a certain broadcast association had their annual convention to contend with right in the middle of the notice’s timeline.”

The FCC responded by extending the deadline for comments to June 8, with reply comments due July 8.

In the wake of this discussion, other conversations about the FCC’s comment deadlines have come to light.

Several groups — including Protect Internet Freedom, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and TechNet — have pressed the commission to grant comment extensions on all of its existing docket items, due in part to a backlog of comments across all commission dockets.

A similar request came from the Republican chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Appropriations Committees, who asked Chairman Tom Wheeler to extend the comment period on its broadband privacy proposal.

It was in January that the commission released the Notice of Proposed Rule Making that proposing changes to Part 11 of the commission’s EAS rules. The original comment due date on the NPRM was March 24 with a deadline for reply comments for June 7.

FCC Proposal Would Bring Some New EAS Terminology & Procedures