FCC Proposes Changes in EAS Rules
March 16, 2004
The FCC is proposing to modify the Part 11 rules covering the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to allow "wireless cable" system operators to force-tune subscriber equipment to a specific channel for EAS alerts and messages instead of installing a separate EAS decoder for "each and every" system channel. The FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking FCC 04-46 (NPRM) notes, "Our EAS rules are designed to ensure that individual TV viewers, including viewers of wireless cable TV systems, receive all EAS alerts, no matter what channel the viewer may be watching. As these rules are currently written, wireless cable providers serving more than 5,000 subscribers are required to install special equipment sufficient to display the audio and video EAS message on every channel in their systems. Although all broadcast stations, cable systems and wireless cable systems are required to install EAS equipment, they have the option of requesting FCC authorization to be Non-participating National ("NN") sources. In the event of a national EAS alert, NN sources are required to transmit a sign-off announcement and then go off the air."
The Wireless Cable Association International, Inc. (WCA) proposed that wireless cable operators install EAS equipment for one channel only at the system headend. When an EAS alert was received, the system would "automatically force each subscriber set-top box to tune to the channel carrying the EAS alert." WCA pointed out that the current rules were "unnecessarily burdensome." Digital wireless cable systems transmit multiple program streams on each channel. To insert the analog EAS audio/video information, each stream has to be demultiplexed, converted to analog, and then converted back to digital and multiplexed into the channel stream. WCA said the cost of its "force-tune" approach would be about $46,000 for a 128 channel digital system, compared with $1,848,250 if each program stream has to be encoded individually.
The FCC NPRM proposes to revise the rules to allow use of a "force-tune" EAS implementation as proposed by WCA. The NPRM asked for comment on "whether we should adopt 'force tuning' for all wireless cable systems, or whether 'force tuning' should be limited to systems of a certain size and, if so, what size would be appropriate. We seek comment on the pros and cons of 'force tuning,' as proposed by WCA and this NPRM, and whether there is another approach -- which is a better alternative, technically and/or financially, than the one proposed -- or whether compliance with the current requirements is most appropriate."
The proposed rules would require operators using the "force-tune" technology to develop procedures "to ensure that the process works and that subscriber equipment, such as set-top boxes, does, in fact, tune to the EAS alert/message channel when instructed to do so by the headend equipment."
More information is available in the FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking FCC 04-46.