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ACA: Lack of EAS Blanket Waiver Could Deep-Six Some Systems

The American Cable Association was not happy with the FCC's proposed revamp of the emergency alert system (EAS), saying Thursday it could force the shutdown of some of the small cable system it represents.

American Cable Association President Matt Polka called the FCC's Report & Order issued this week "terribly disappointing" and said it should be re-thought. An ACA spokesperson said it is considering officially petitioning the FCC to reconsider the decision.

ACA was particularly unhappy with the FCC's decision not to extend a blanket waiver from Common Alerting Protocol compliance to systems that do not have a physical Internet connection at their head-ends -- as is the case with a number of its members, Polka said -- and the FCC's suggestion that the waivers it does issue on a case-by-case basis will likely only be for 6 months.

"Thus, cable operators that can't afford to comply with the FCC's EAS mandates will be required to engage in a waiver process that could cost even more," said Polka.

And while the alert is meant to help avert disaster, Polka suggested the FCC's order could create a doomsday scenario for some of the smallest and most vulnerable. "The majority of systems that do not have a physical Internet connection serve from a few dozen to a few hundred subscribers," he said in a statement. "Most are struggling to break even today, and some are losing money. Their inability to shoulder the cost of new regulatory burdens, both through EAS-CAP compliance and a waiver process, will likely lead some to shut down their cable systems prematurely."

In its order, the FCC referred to ACA's warnings about systems going under, but said that it did not believe it should adopt any form or blanket waiver. While it did not agreed to a blanket waiver for system that would need to replace old equipment or get broadband access, it did say the unavailability of that broadband would be a presumption in favor of a waiver, since it makes no sense to require equipment that can't be used.