Last week the FCC adopted the Fourth Report and Order in EB Docket 04-296 to extend the EAS CAP deadline. The Fourth R&O addresses petitions filed by Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. It also addresses a Petition for Immediate Relief filed by Randy Gehman.
In the report, the FCC stated it was amending Section 11.56 of its EAS rules to require EAS participants to be able to receive CAP-formatted EAS alerts no later than June 30, 2012. The FCC said, "We anticipate that we will adopt the CAP-based revisions to our Part 11 EAS rules in a subsequent order stemming from our Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Third FNPRM) in this docket sufficiently in advance of June 30, 2012, to allow EAS Participants ample time to comply with the new Part 11 rules."
The original deadline for compliance was March 29, 2011. This was subsequently extended until Sept. 30, 2011.
On May 25, 2011, the FCC issued the Third FNPRM, seeking comment on revisions to the rules and whether extension of the deadline was needed. Most commenters requested an extension, in part because the FCC has yet to finalize its CAP-based EAS rules, and as such is not in a position to certify equipment. Considering that the original deadline is less than 10 days away, it seems obvious to me the deadline had to be extended.
The NAB commented, "Given this regulatory uncertainty, EAS Participants would need additional time to include review of these testing results before making their EAS equipment purchasing decisions."
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) argued that "testing of CAP equipment and software is fundamental before the technology is up and running on live cable systems."
A joint petition from NAB, NCTA, SBE, MSTV, NPR, APTS, PBS and state broadcasters' associations stated that, "the outcome of the rulemaking proceeding will undoubtedly have an impact on what CAP-compliant equipment will be deemed acceptable, it makes little sense that equipment be purchased before interested parties know the outcome of that rulemaking. Many vendors will require three to six months of actual testing of the new CAP-capable equipment before it can be relied upon."
What I found interesting was that two equipment manufacturers--Monroe Electronics and Sage Alerting Systems--opposed any further extension of the CAP compliance deadline. Monroe stated, "Information on the relevant standards and requirements have been available from FEMA and industry groups including the EAS-CAP Industry Group for months, and in cases for years" and that "[t]here are few, if any, outstanding [potential compliance issues] that we feel could not be resolved via software/firmware update, which may easily be accommodated by CAP EAS equipment in the field. We believe a suitable certification regime is already is in place," adding, "[n]umerous vendors have already designed, certified and marketed CAP-compliant EAS equipment."
Sage said that, "the majority of technical issues have been addressed, certainly in the area of the CAP protocol itself, the IPAWS use of that protocol to encode EAS messages, and in the technical descriptions of how to convert an IPAWS encoded CAP message and turn it into an EAS message for air." Sage further stated, "[t]he majority of the uncertainties are regulatory, having to do with changes to Part 11 rules and possible certification requirements," and "the actual technical changes from what is currently implemented and in the field are minor [and configurable via software]."
FEMA's IPAWS Program Management Office noted the FEMA IPAWS/CAP interface will not be ready until the end of September and the NWS, which issues the majority of state and local EAS alerts, will not be processing weather alerts for CAP for IPAWS until November 2011.
The FCC agreed with Monroe and Sage that the CAP standard is well established and that equipment has been deployed that complies with the standard, but stated, "we nonetheless agree with commenters that argue that until the Commission has completed its rulemaking process, it cannot meaningfully impose a deadline by which EAS Participants must 'receive CAP-formatted alerts.'"
The Fourth R&O continues, "No one can comply with section 11.56 yet, because the Commission has not finalized all the key technical specifics necessary for receiving CAP-formatted alerts. Without having these specifics, no EAS Participant can claim that it is currently capable of receiving CAP-formatted alerts, even if it has equipment that could receive such alerts under one or more of the technical specifications being considered by the Commission. It is unlikely that the Commission can address all of the issues raised in the Third FNPRM and ensure that the corresponding Part 11 rule amendments are adopted and effective prior to the current Sept. 30, 2011 deadline."
The FCC agreed that "EAS Participants should be allowed adequate time to evaluate the impact of any changes to Part 11 before being required to comply with regulations the full impact of which cannot yet be known, and said, "Accordingly, we conclude that a further extension of the CAP-compliance deadline is warranted."