Skip to main content

First Informers Get Hill Hearing

Broadcaster Diane Kniowski pitched the House Communications
Subcommittee Thursday on the value of broadcasters as first responders and an
emergency communications lifeline. But she was preaching to the choir when it
came to the chairman of the full committee.

She also addressed the 2011 EAS (emergency alert system) in
which some broadcasters had technical difficulties.

Chairman of the full committee Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.),
had high praise for the home state broadcaster. "I want to welcome today my
friend Diane Kniowski," he said in his opening remarks. "These
stations do a tremendous job of keeping our communities in southwest Michigan
informed both in times of emergency and during our day-to-day lives."

While the hearing focused almost exclusively on wireless and
FirstNet broadband emergency communications network issues, Kniowski made the
most of her platform in opening remarks and prepared testimony.

She relayed the stories of broadcasters who had stayed on
the air with nonstop storm coverage for hours, even days, to keep their viewers
informed. "Broadcasters deliver emergency information with passion -- before,
during and after -- a disaster," she said.

She also pointed to the use of AMBER alerts to recover over
600 missing children. A wireless representative at the hearing also proudly
noted last week's first wireless AMBER alert-related capture, arguing that
broadcast alerts in general were valuable but insufficient in an era of
increasingly mobile media consumers.

Perhaps, but Kniowski pointed out in her testimony that
"even if the electricity is out, causing the Internet and cable television
to go down, and phone service is lost because networks are clogged or cell
towers or phone lines are down, free, over-the-air broadcasters can still be on
the air and delivered to anyone with a battery operated radio or other
receiver...[N]o other industry can match the ability of broadcasting to deliver
timely warnings as well as on-going, comprehensive information as the situation
unfolds to millions of people simultaneously."

Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a former
broadcaster, has concerns about the technical issues that prevented some
stations in his state from receiving the EAS message ina test of the system in November 2011. "While more than 90% of the
stations properly ran the test message, technical challenges prevented stations
in my home state of Oregon and elsewhere from receiving the message," he
said. "This could have been catastrophic in a real emergency and must be
resolved in short order," he said.

Anticipating the concern, Kniowski said in her
testimony that FEMA had been working with one Oregon station to correct its
problem, not with receiving the message, but with disseminating it. She also
pointed out that the test was mean to identify problems "before a real
event may occur."