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Emergency Alert makes FCC agenda

The FCC finally is getting around to reviewing three-year-old requests by the National Weather Service and the Society of Broadcast Engineers to make technical changes to the Emergency Alert System.

NWS wants emergency codes used by the broadcasters and cable systems made compatible with those used by the government's weather radio service. The codes are for more than 30 state and local events such as coastal flood and tropical storm warnings, for which stations voluntarily provide alerts.

The broadcast engineers are seeking changes to EAS testing requirements such as making the two-tone attention signal optional, reducing the modulation level for EAS codes, establishing a standard for text transmission, and allowing audio for the President's message to be carried separately from the EAS signal.

The FCC said it does not want to impose additional burdens on stations, especially for carriage of the voluntary state and local alerts and is asking for comment on cost of the proposed modifications.

Republican Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth already is chiming in. He says the agency should not impose rules for voluntary actions. Instead of proposing new rules now, the FCC should have launched a simple inquiry to determine the state of the EAS system, he said.

Broadcasters were required to install the current EAS system in January 1997; most cable systems by December 1998. Small cable systems with fewer than 10,000 subscribers have until October 2002.
- Bill McConnell