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FCC Releases Long-Awaited Emergency Alert System NPRM


Last week, the FCC released its long-awaited Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the goal of which is to modify Part 11 of the FCC’s Rules in order to allow for Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) delivery of the “next generation” Emergency Alert System (EAS). A copy of the NPRM can be found here.

EAS Participants (e.g., radio and television stations, wired and wireless cable television systems, DBS and SDARS services) have been anxiously waiting for the FCC to release this NRPM since at least the end of last year. The primary reason for this, as we previously reported here and here, is that CAP-compliant EAS encoders/decoders must be purchased, installed and operational by September 30 of this year. The hope of EAS Participants has been that this proceeding will provide them with much needed guidance to make informed decisions regarding what equipment they should obtain and install to ensure compliance with CAP and the revised Part 11 rules. The NPRM also gives EAS Participants the opportunity to comment on the proposed rules and to provide input regarding how CAP and next generation EAS will impact their operations going forward.

The NPRM is a lengthy 203 paragraphs (with an additional 18 pages of proposed new rules) and it asks for public comment on many items related to revising and streamlining the FCC’s Part 11 rules and how the FCC should codify the requirements for processing emergency alerts using CAP. A few of the NPRM’s highlights are summarized below.

The FCC tentatively concludes in the NPRM that, for the time being, it should maintain the existing legacy EAS daisy chain, including using the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) protocol. The NPRM proposes to adopt new rules for EAS Participants to simultaneously use the CAP protocol alongside SAME. According to the NPRM, the FCC plans to amend its rules to require all EAS Participants to monitor the RSS 2.0 feeds (used by FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for federal CAP-formatted messages and by state alert systems as the source of governor-originated CAP messages). The NPRM notes that this last requirement will be dependent upon governor-originated CAP protocol actually being included in State Area EAS Plans that have been submitted to and approved by the FCC.

With respect to EAS equipment certification, the FCC asks whether and how it should incorporate compliance with CAP into its current certification scheme. As part of this process, the FCC requests comment on specifics regarding how the Commission should implement conformance testing related to the proper translation of CAP-formatted messages into EAS Protocol-compliant messages and what requirements the Commission should adopt with respect to modifications to certified EAS equipment.

Additionally, the FCC asks whether the existing 180-day clock for CAP-compliance is sufficient, and whether the September 30 deadline should be maintained or extended. The Commission requests that parties comment on a number of proposed revisions to the FCC’s current procedures for processing Emergency Action Notifications (EANs). In the final CAP-related item of the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on whether the introduction of CAP to the existing technical framework of EAS can improve access to emergency information to persons with disabilities.

The NPRM is lengthy, highly technical at times, and includes many proposals to consider. Nevertheless, EAS Participants should take the time to carefully review the NPRM because the proposals adopted by the FCC will have a substantial (and potentially costly) impact on EAS Participants for years to come. For those who wish to participate, comments are due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 45 days after the NPRM publication occurs.