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FCC Levels $16,000 Fine for EAS Violations

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau is busy with radio pirates these days, but not so preoccupied that agents aren’t all over various other rules violations. A Comcast cable system in Florence, Ala., this week was nailed for not retransmitting Emergency Alert System messages to “certain customers,” according to the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability. The cable operator was fined $16,000.

The Notice indicates that Comcast “admitted that two classes of customers in the Florence system failed to receive EAS visual and audio messages for slightly more than seven months and four months, respectively, in parts of 2010 and 2011.” The omissions were attributed to “employee mistakes in configuring headend equipment during a digital upgrade.” The operator’s weekly tests during the period didn’t reveal the error, and it didn’t come to light until January of 2011, when it was said to be corrected.

Every digital cable system is part of the national EAS network and required to pass on alerts. One method of compliance involves a message to set-top boxes that automatically tunes a subscriber’s set to a channel carrying the EAS message.

The FCC found that the Comcast franchise “willfully and repeatedly” violated the EAS rules--conditions triggering a fine. The incident was deemed willful because the encoders and decoders were not properly installed at the headends, resulting in repeated violations. The base fine for improperly installed or non-operational EAS gear is $8,000. The fine for Comcast was doubled because it’s a “multibillion dollar enterprise,” and as such, should “expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations.” The cable operator can appeal the fine.

~ Deborah D. McAdams, Television Broadcast