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ACA: FCC Should Retain Local Decisionmaking For EAS Override Rule

Agency Should Reject Broadcasters’ Proposal To Opt Out Of A Cable Operator’s EAS System Unilaterally

PITTSBURGH, June 9, 2016 -  In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the American Cable Association urged the agency to reaffirm its long-standing policy of allowing, but not requiring, local cable operators to let broadcasters opt-out of cable-provided Emergency Alert System messages.  This policy remains the best way to ensure that the public has access to important emergency information.

"ACA members believe that the existing EAS rules serve the public interest and appropriately take account of the special considerations of smaller entities," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. "The FCC's policies in this area have allowed ACA members to better serve their predominantly rural and smaller market service areas in a manner that reliably provides alerting, including local alerts that are not always offered by in-market broadcasters."

FCC polices permit cable operators to satisfy the general requirement that they transmit EAS information over all programming channels by automatically tuning subscribers' set-top boxes to a single, pre-designated channel that carries the required audio and video EAS message and do so on a cable system-wide basis. This option is known as "forced tuning."

The FCC also allows cable operators to exclude viewers tuned to broadcast stations from receiving the cable-delivered EAS alerts or from force tuning away from the broadcast channel upon agreement between broadcast stations and local cable operators - a process known as "selective override."

Pursuant to a written agreement with a broadcaster, the cable operator may elect not to interrupt the broadcaster's programming or force tune viewers away to the designated EAS channel, based on the understanding that the broadcaster will distribute state and local EAS messages and will report further news or weather-related emergency information with state and local EAS.  Ultimately, a local decision is made between the cable operator and the broadcaster about how best to ensure consumers can access EAS messages.

In the comments, ACA came out in strong opposition to a proposal by the National Association of Broadcaster that would give TV stations the right to demand selective override, which would prevent cable operators from providing EAS alerts on a system-wide basis.

ACA explained that adoption of the NAB's forced selective override plan would prove disruptive by:

  • Preventing viewers from receiving the very EAS alerts that they rely on when localized emergencies strike. This can occur because EAS participants, including broadcasters, are not obligated to distribute State and local EAS messages outside of their station's local EAS area, and in some cases a cable system that carries a broadcast station may be located outside of that station's local EAS area.
  • Forcing cable operators to purchase new software and, depending on the operator, possibly hardware as well, because most set-top box software deployed by cable operators does not support selective overrides.

"Forced tuning remains, in most cases, the best way to provide the public with EAS alerts and assure that an EAS alert is actually delivered to a potentially vulnerable population," ACA's Polka said.  "Station owners broadcasting from the city center should not be able to block cable operators that serve rural areas from delivering important localized EAS messages to all of their customers."

ACA also said: the FCC's proposal to require EASs participants to certify to CSRIC-IV best practices is both unnecessary and inadvisable; it should not adopt any reporting requirements for false alerts or set-top box lockouts; and it should not expand the rules to require cable operators to provide EAS alerts beyond programmed channels.

About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing nearly 750 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for nearly 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.  For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/

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