Ruling on CAP messaging expected soon

While the FCC has set a deadline of Sept. 30 for U.S. broadcasters to install new Emergency Alert System (EAS) receivers, many station owners appear to be waiting to see whether a new commission rulemaking — basically a clarification of the FCC’s Third Report & Order — might change the requirements. The fear is that the current equipment might be rendered obsolete.

The final rulemaking is currently being circulated among members of the FCC and is expected to be released within the next few weeks.

Broadcasters have to start moving on this quickly in order to have their stations ready for the Sept. 30 deadline or risk getting fined. Currently, the two most common fines handed out by the FCC are: tower-related infractions and noncompliance with the nation’s EAS platform. EAS fines average roughly $8000 per station.

Broadcast stations and cable operators must spend up to $3000 to purchase CAP receivers. Estimates are that about one-third of the broadcasters have already purchased the gear.

The government mandate requires broadcasters to install the next-generation of EAS gear that can receive IP-based Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) messages. However, the FCC is reportedly still negotiating the final requirements of the technology. Some broadcasters are said to be waiting on the FCC for a decision before they buy. They fear the commission may impose additional requirements.

For the past few years, the government and industry manufacturers like Digital Alert Systems (DAS), Sage Alerting Systems and Trilithic have been working together to develop the new emergency system, which delivers emergency warnings via the Internet Protocol so that they can be received on any Web-enabled device. The CAP messages, the result of that effort, will allow the government to send more detailed messages — including text and photos — to targeted audiences.

“There’s a general concern among stations that they don’t want to buy equipment that won’t be compliant with the FCC’s new rules,” said Bill Robertson, business development manager at Digital Alert Systems (a division of Monroe Electronics). Hearst Television has begun deploying DAS’s DASDEC-II EAS/CAP platform across its 29 stations in 26 DMAs. “However, stations have to realize that the new generation of emergency alert equipment is flexible enough to be able to accommodate any new requirements with a simple software upgrade.”

Current EAS messages can be targeted only to the county level and text scrolls across the screen. CAP messages, on the other hand, can be targeted to smaller geographic areas and can include graphics. The graphics might include a picture of a kidnapped child.

In 2010, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established a certification process for CAP-enabled products. Once that happened, the FCC gave broadcasters and cable operators 180 days to purchase and install that equipment. That deadline was eventually extended to Sept. 30.

Many broadcasters are hoping for another deadline extension from the FCC. But the commission is unlikely to grant it. Once the rulemaking is passed, there will be a 30-day public comment period followed by a 15-day window for reply comments. The rulemaking process, FCC staffers said, should be concluded in time for stations to comply with the Sept. 30 deadline.

EAS equipment makers say stations purchasing the new alert and warning system equipment should be careful to select equipment that has been properly tested for government certification.
“Stations should make sure that the equipment they are purchasing has passed the conformity acceptance testing to ensure that it will work with FEMA’s new standard and iPAWS and manages the CAP data correctly,” DAS’s Robertson said.

DAS, Sage and Trilithic have all filed the necessary paperwork (“Suppliers Declaration of Conformity”), signaling their respective EAS platforms are compatible with FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Conformity Assessment (CA).
The IPAWS CA program is designed to ensure that vendors wishing to provide hardware or software solutions meet FCC and FEMA requirements. IPAWS CAP-conformant vendors are listed on the FEMA RKB website. FEMA has encouraged emergency management officials, broadcasters and other EAS equipment users to learn more about the program and to access test reports.