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SBE endorses national EAS ‘exercises,’ but warns against regulatory burdens

National testing of the Emergency Alert System is “long overdo” and should be done in a “comprehensive manner periodically” but should not place burdensome regulation and expense on broadcasters, the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) told the FCC in comments filed March 12.

In the comments, filed in response to the commission’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FCC 10-11) proposing to amend Part 11 rules regarding the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to set up nationwide testing of the system and collection of test data, SBE said periodic national testing would “quell some of the controversy” in the broadcast industry stemming from questions about the utility of EAS.

Given the tough economic times both radio and TV broadcasters are facing, more FCC regulation and the expense of complying may actually work against the commission’s goal of ensuring a robust, reliable EAS system. “Additional regulatory obligations imposed by Commission regulation are not conducive to voluntary EAS participation, and therefore the outcome of this proceeding can (but need not) be self-defeating,” the filing said.

According to the filing, there is reason to be concerned. With a “history of zealous enforcement” of EAS rule compliance, tests of the system “have been a frequent source of monetary forfeitures for the Commission’s enforcement Bureau,” which has discouraged some broadcasters from voluntarily participating in EAS.

Rather than set up a national test, the SBE filing asked the commission to designate any new nationwide EAS tests as “exercises,” which will help to promote participation and not “result in Commission sanctions for relatively minor errors or omissions by participants acting in good faith.”

The SBE filing also sought language clarification in proposed rule wording related to making clear “whether or not the (national EAS) test will involve sending an (Emergency Action Termination) EAT alert following the (Emergency Alert Network) EAN alert to replicate a real alert sequence.”

The filing also proposed the FCC set up conformance lab testing and limited field testing of approved EAS units “to determine each unit’s true reaction to an incoming EAN message.” Testing could head off further existing EAS problems referred to in the commission’s rulemaking proceeding stemming from different ENDEC manufacturers programming their devices to send and receive EANs in different ways.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.