WASHINGTON, D.C.—Responding to a joint request filed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and REC Networks (REC) on November 14, 2023 to delay implementation of new Emergency Alert rules, the FCC has granted some broadcasters a 90 day extension to comply with the requirement that an Emergency Alert System (EAS) Participant prioritize the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)-formatted version of an EAS message.
The FCC has earlier issued an Report and Order directing EAS participants to transmit certain messages in an IP-based format rather than the versions in the legacy EAS format, which usually convey less information. It also required EAS participants to replace the jargon that now automatically appears in the text of certain messages, including EAS test announcements, with plain language that will be more easily understood by the public and provide more accurate information for individuals who cannot access the audio message, the FCC said.
REC and NAB had asked for the 90 days extension until March 11 2024 to implement the rules because there was an unexpected delay in the delivery of a firmware update by an EAS equipment vendor, Sage Alerting Systems (Sage).
The extension to March 11, 2024 is only applicable if stations and operations are using a Sage encoder-decoder. The FCC stressed that the deadline for compliance remains December 12, 2023 for those using an EAS encoder-decoder from any other manufacturer.
In granting the extension, the FCC noted that “We are persuaded that Sage’s delay in delivering the necessary update is beyond the control of EAS Participants and will impede its customers’ ability to meet the December 12, 2023 deadline. As of November 14, 2023 (the date on which REC and NAB filed this Extension Request), Sage had not yet released the necessary update. The Extension Request observes that Sage serves `a significant market share of both low power and full-power FM stations’ as well as `numerous television and multiple video programming distributor EAS Participants.’ The Extension Request observes that `[m]any radio and television stations, especially low power and small full-power stations’ rely on contract engineers, but that `in many areas, there are few such engineers qualified to ensure the proper implementation of this firmware update,’ such that “it would be difficult for stations to obtain the necessary service by the current deadline,’ particularly considering that `hundreds, if not thousands, of EAS Participants must update their firmware by the same deadline.’”
The FCC had previously ruled that as of December 12, 2023, all EAS Participants, including radio broadcasters, television broadcasters, and operators of satellite, cable TV, and wireline video services, must start transmitting EAS messages in the IP-based format, when available, and replace the current jargon in the legacy format for the national alert originator code, national test code, and (except for cable systems) national emergency code with the plain language versions.
Operators of cable systems were given until March 12, 2024, to implement the plain language version for Presidential alerts (national emergencies) in existing set-top boxes if possible through a software upgrade and make such set-top boxes available to customers who request them.
The FCC also ruled that operators of cable systems have until December 12, 2028 to ensure that all set-top boxes in their systems can display the revised language for Presidential alerts.