O'Rielly Fears EAS NPRM Is OTT Regulation Creep

The FCC has voted to seek input on how to update the emergency alert system (EAS) to reflect new technologies, but at least one Republican member is concerned that it will be a way to extend EAS mandates to over-the-top.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said it was an effort to insure that the FCC was keeping up with safety, its most important assignment, and that it would be a "tragedy beyond comprehension" to wake up late to how technology is changing how people receive information.

Wheeler said the item was basically asking how, inside the FCC's authority, the FCC can keep up.

But commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he had to dissent in part from the proposal, citing its potential for expanding EAS requirements to over-the-top services like Hulu and Netflix, which he said could lead to regulating some services, but not others.

O'Rielly said there had been improvements from the original wording of the proposal, but not enough.

Commissioner Ajit Pai was more sanguine about those changes.

"As important as what’s in the document is what’s not. The Notice no longer seeks comment on imposing regulations on over-the-top ('OTT') providers in a way that would have tilted the regulatory playing field against a subset of those providers," he said. "Given the nascent, competitive, and dynamic nature of the OTT market, I thought it was important to move forward in a more balanced manner, and I appreciate the compromise struck on this point. As we modernize the system, we must be mindful of how our regulations might impact the market for IP-based offerings."

Pai said he was pleased with added language that asks some fundamental questions about EAS. "Right now, EAS messages are transmitted in one of two ways: either through the traditional, broadcast-based EAS protocol or through a newer, Internet-based protocol. Does it make sense to maintain these two approaches for redundancy or other purposes? Or should we switch to a single distribution method?"

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.