There follows an updated listing of the FCC proceedings in which the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association has jointly participated with other State Broadcasters Associations in 2016. This update provides the arguments which we advanced in strong support of the Commission’s elimination of the “paper” public file requirement.
- In the Matter of Amendment of Part 11 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts, (PS Docket No. 15-91, PS Docket No. 15-94), Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 31 FCC Rcd 594 (2016). Motion for Extension of Deadlines for Filing Comments and Reply Comments, filed April 29, 2016. (Granted in part).
- In the Matter of Amendment of Part 11 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts, (PS Docket No. 15-91, PS Docket No. 15-94), Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 31 FCC Rcd 594 (2016). Joint Comments filed June 8, 2016. In their Joint Comments, the participating State Associations reminded the FCC of their long and active experience in helping to manage the process of developing State EAS Plans for submission to the Commission for review and approval. They also emphasized the leading role that they played in a five-year effort to authorize IPAWS in federal law. (Prior to the bill’s enactment earlier this year, IPAWS had existed only as the result of a Presidential order. Importantly, the new law calls for the creation of an advisory group of federal and state partners and EAS stakeholders to work on improvements to our nation’s warning system. It also calls for FEMA to incorporate EAS/IPAWS training in the National Incident Management System, ensuring that communication to the public will remain part and parcel of emergency managers’ incident response.) While complimenting the FCC for its very hard work and insightful treatment of the subject of EAS by the Commission and its staff, as evidenced by the scope of the NPRM, the State Associations expressed concern that some approaches proposed or being considered by the Commission would place unreasonable burdens on State Emergency Communications Committees, which typically consist of volunteer members, and/or would impose “one size fits all” type regulations on matters which are better left to the states, which can tailor approaches more suitable to their respective individual needs. The matters of concern identified by the State Associations included the development of a State EAS Plan template, the inclusion of certain information, such as SECC governance structures and local area EAS plans, in State Plans, and some of the security measures and related reporting obligations proposed by the Commission. The State Associations expressed their belief, in particular, that the Commission’s security proposals are over-reaching and would chill full participation in the EAS network. The State Associations also opposed the proposal that State EAS Plans include platforms such as social media which are not part of the EAS network. They pointed out the unreliability of social media as an alert platform, the large number of people who use social media only infrequently or not at all, and the rapid developments in social media technology and applications that make these sort of non-broadcast/cable platforms unsuitable for inclusion in State EAS Plans. The State Associations also pointed out that the pace of those technological advances, and the evolution of social media generally, would make it extremely difficult to address the role of social media in EAS Plans and to keep Plans updated. The State Associations supported the proposal that EAS Participants have the ability to conduct live code tests at their discretion without the need for a waiver, and supported the proposal that EAS tones be permitted in PSAs, subject to monitoring to assure that such tones do not inadvertently trigger alerts. They also stated that the use of WEA tones should be permitted in bona fide news reports to educate the public as to WEA. As a general matter, the State Associates stated that certain decisions are best left to state and local entities, as those entities are in the best position to make determinations in which key factors which will differ from place to place. In accordance with that concept, they stated that EAS Participants and governmental entities should have the discretion to determine the languages in which PSAs and other EAS related programs should be broadcast. Finally, the State Associations called for the use of selective override to address the problem of cable force tuning, which results in television viewers being deprived of critical emergency information at the times they most need it. (Proceeding pending)
- In the Matter of Revisions to Public File Requirements — Broadcaster Correspondence File and Cable Principal Headend Location, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, MB Docket No. 16-161, FCC 16-62 (released May 25, 2016). Joint Comments filed July 22, 2016. In their Joint Comments, the participating State Associations strongly supported the FCC’s proposal to eliminate the rule which requires broadcasters to maintain letters and e-mails from the public in their public files. We made the following points: (i) In light of the accessibility of other means by which the public can communicate with broadcast stations, including on social media where such communications typically are preserved and publically accessible, the requirement that stations retain letters and e-mails is outdated. (We also noted that numerous broadcasters associations have made this point to the FCC in the past, so the elimination of the requirement now is, at a minimum, timely.) (ii) because the public correspondence portion is the final vestige of the public file required to be maintained in a paper format, elimination of the requirement would enable stations to dedicate staff resources to more productive uses as well as to provide a more secure and safe work environment for their staff; (iii) while radio stations outside the top 50 markets and those with fewer than 5 full-time employees are not required to move their public files online until 2018, the elimination of the final aspect of the physical public file may encourage them to do so earlier; and (iv) because commercial broadcasters are the only entities required to maintain correspondence from the public in their public files, elimination of the requirement would provide for regulatory parity with other FCC-regulated businesses. (Proceeding pending)