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Broadcasters and Cable Operators Find Something They Can Agree On: an EAS CAP Extension

With the Fox-Cablevision carriage dispute grabbing headlines, and the cable and broadcast industries preparing for battle in Congress and at the FCC over retransmission issues, you would be hard pressed to find common ground between these two media players. However, I have seen it, and it is now on file at the FCC.

When FEMA signed off on a technical standard for the next generation of emergency alert technology, known as CAP, a few weeks ago, it activated a 180 day deadline for the government to certify CAP-capable equipment and for media entities to acquire and install that certified equipment. At the time, we wrote that 180 days likely would not be enough time to have equipment based on the new standard manufactured, certified by FEMA (and possibly the FCC), installed, tested, and operational. While no one wants to hinder deployment of this next-generation emergency alert technology, the immense complexity of CAP, which is intended to distribute alerts not just on television and radio, but potentially through cell phones, the Internet, and myriad other communications channels, makes implementation very challenging. There are still a lot of issues to work out, and just as important as deploying the technology is making sure that it will work properly once deployment is complete.

To ensure that happens, and to try to facilitate an orderly rather than rushed deployment of EAS CAP technology, earlier today Dick Zaragoza and Paul Cicelski of our firm filed a request to extend the time period during which media entities must implement the CAP standard. The current deadline for EAS implementation is March 29, 2011. Today’s extension request urges the FCC to extend the implementation period through at least September 30, 2011, and to consider a longer implementation period tied to completion of the FCC’s own potential CAP equipment certification process and/or the FCC’s anticipated proceeding to modify its rules to complete the implementation of CAP.

This is the interesting part. Participating in today’s extension request were 46 of the state broadcasters associations, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the American Cable Association, the Association for Maximum Service Television, National Public Radio, the Association of Public Television Stations, and the Public Broadcasting Service.

I can’t recall any prior issue inspiring such unanimity among this diverse group of participants, and that should provide an indication of the seriousness with which they view the upcoming task. If implemented successfully, EAS CAP will bring a more ubiquitous and content-rich emergency alert system to the United States. If implemented poorly, vast amounts of time and money will have been expended without significantly improving public safety. Knowing many individuals who have dedicated themselves to making CAP a reality over the past few years, it would be a shame to not see the full benefits of the technology realized.