Changes to EAS Rules currently on circulation; May require software updates
On Septmber 8, 2022, the FCC released the tentative agenda for the Open Meeting on September 29, 2022. On the agenda for that meeting is an item related to changes to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). With the agenda, the FCC released the circulation draft of the Report and Order for the EAS item that will be voted on during or prior to the Open Meeting.
The most impacting issue on this circulation draft is the new rules related to what is being called "CAP Polling". To understand what CAP Polling is, we must first understand the two methods that an EAS decoder receives alerts. The EAS decoder will receive "legacy" alerts. Legacy alerts are those that are transmitted over the radio on your station's EAS monitoring assignments and include the short data streams (sometimes referred to as "duck calls") prior to the message. The EAS decoder will also receive "CAP" alerts. CAP stands for Common Alerting Protocol and these are the messages the decoder will receive through the internet connection. The data included in CAP alerts are much more robust than the data included with legacy alerts and can include sound files and image files (such as the pictures of children involved in AMBER alerts). Receiving the alert through CAP is much more favorable, especially for TV viewers with disabilities. Normally, when an alert is received at around the same time, the EAS decoder will usually take the first one received and may choose to rebroadcast a legacy alert as opposed to a CAP alert if the decoder gets the same alert from both sources.
Under the CAP Polling rule being considered this month, when the EAS decoder receives a legacy alert, the decoder will wait up to 10 seconds for a CAP alert to be received. If a CAP alert is received during that period, the decoder will forward the CAP alert, otherwise, it will forward the legacy alert.
This change will benefit television much more than it benefits radio. We note that during the proceeding, the National Association of Broadcasters specifically asked for an exemption of the CAP Polling requirement for radio since "the entire [rulemaking proceeding] is framed in terms of enhancing the accessibility of EAS alerts for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing through the dissemination of more alerts with matching visual crawls and audio messages." The FCC declined NAB's request citing that some digital radio broadcasters transmit visual alerts to digital radio receivers and also due to the fact that a CAP delivered message will have clearer audio quality than a legacy alert. We are not sure if NAB will file for reconsideration on this, but they may.
What does this mean for stations?
The new rule that is expected to be adopted this month will require radio broadcasters to come into compliance within one year. This means that your EAS equipment must be equipped with CAP Polling.
Digital Alert Systems/DASDEC
REC has already verified that if a station is equipped with DASDEC version 4, they already have this functionality. DAS provides this functionality under the trade name Triggered CAP Polling™. To activate this feature, log into your DASDEC and click on the "Setup" tab, click on the Alert Agent™ radio button and then the "Alert Policies" tab. Look for the Triggered CAS Polling-Global Settings and check the box to enable it. You can set the time for the window for polling CAP. To be compliant, that value must be 10 seconds or longer.
REC inquired with DAS regarding stations still using DASDEC version 3 and they have confirmed that stations still on DASDEC version 3 will need to upgrade to version 4. This is a paid upgrade. Stations are advised to contact Digital Alert Systems for information on upgrading.
Sage Alerting Systems
REC has also put in inquiry into Sage regarding how stations would be able to be in compliance. Sage is refusing to comment at this time while the Report and Order is still in draft. We expect that Sage will provide information to their users with the process.
This is a circulation draft
It is important to remember, this is a circulation draft and not a final decision. Anything can be changed between now and the time when the final version is voted on by the Commission. For a period up to one week prior to the scheduled date of the meeting, other parties may engage in ex parte presentations with the Commission decision making staff. Additional changes may also be requested by the Commissioners. The next time we will see what, if any changes were made, will be when the FCC releases the adopted Report and Order following the vote on the item.
Upon the adoption and release of the Report and Order, REC will issue an LPFM Advisory Letter on this subject and at that time, we can also address owners of Trilithic and Gorman Redlich equipment.
This is still a fluid issue, still subject to modifications.