FCC Ponders Secondary Audio for Emergency Alerts

WASHINGTON: Federal regulators are proposing that emergency broadcast information be provided on secondary audio streams. The details are included in the Federal Communication Commission’s Nov. 19 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on making emergency messages accessible to blind people, a requirement of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

“This NPRM proposes to make televised emergency information more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by requiring the use of a secondary audio stream to provide emergency information aurally that is conveyed visually during programming other than newscasts,” the document states. “Second, we seek comment… on how to ensure that television apparatus are able to make available video description, as well as to make emergency information, accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

The NPRM seeks comment on the incremental costs of providing a secondary audio stream to convey emergency information. It asks if the new rules should be applied differently to broadcasters or multichannel video providers who may not have a secondary audio stream and lack the technical capability to pass through video description information. The 2011 Video Description Order, which compels large-market stations to provide aural description of regular programming—contains a technical capability exception. The NRPM asks if there are alternatives to using secondary audio for provision of video description. It also asks for feedback on how the scheme would affect channel-sharing, which is a large part of the commission’s incentive auction proposal.

While the emergency information referenced in the NPRM is not limited to Emergency Alert System notifications, they are mentioned.

“We seek comment on whether and how the proposals contained herein should apply to EAS alerts,” it states. “For example, to what extent is emergency information provided as visual-only EAS alerts?”

The commission has until April 9, 2013 to complete the proceeding on access to emergency information, and until Oct. 9, 2013, to complete receiver requirements.

The deadline for comments will be 20 days after publication in the Federal Register. The Docket No. is 12-107.