EAS CAP in the Home Stretch

The finish line for EAS CAP compliance finally is in sight On June 30, service providers -- including cable operators -- must have updated equipment deployed and operational.

On Jan. 10, the FCC released what likely is the last major document before the checkered flag is raised. The Fifth Report and Order on the Emergency Alert System Common Alerting Protocol (EAS CAP). According to Steve Johnson, the principal of Johnson Telecom, the document answers many significant questions and describes a few important changes.

Johnson outlined three changes:

  • The mandatory carriage of a governors' alert that had been part of rules until now has been eliminated. "The argument was that the emergency alert community has the training to create the emergency messages, but the governors' offices do not," Johnson said. "It made more sense to leave it in the hands of those who have the training."

  • Six-month waivers will be granted by the commission if the service provider has no Internet access. Subsequent six month waivers will be granted if the conditions that caused the original waiver didn't change.

  • On the more technical front, the way in which the National Alert -- the message from the President -- will be terminated with an end of message (EOM) signal, which is simpler than the Emergency Activation Termination (EAT) method originally contemplated.

Adam Jones, sales engineer and senior applications engineer for Trilithic, suggested that things are moving along well. "We feel that the move to CAP compliance is moving smoothly at this point," he said. "This time around, everything should stick. At this point, there is no excuse for [operators] not having equipment. Most of the unknowns that were important are now known."

Ed Czarnecki, senior director of strategy, development and regulatory affairs for Monroe Electronics said that new ground was broken by the Fifth Report and Order. He said that the FCC has instituted a blanket prohibition on text-to-speech technology on EAS devices. That doesn't directly change what cable operators are responsible for. It does, however, create a problem one step up the chain, he said.

Czarnecki said the step was taken because of concerns on reliability, consistency and standardization of pronunciation that could have caused confusion among the disabled population. "That poses a significant wrinkle for the IPAWS program," he said. IPAWS is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which is administered by FEMA.

Some of the other changes Czarnecki discussed hit closer to home for operators and their vendors. They deal more with the future. Specifically, the FCC has changed the certification process for judging EAS CAP devices' ability to work with new requirements and changes that are expected in the next year or so.

The Fifth Report and Order, Czarnecki said, establishes three classifications of devices: Integrated EAS CAP encoders/decoders and two types of intermediary devices that will link to equipment that is initially put into operation. One -- the component intermediary device -- is specific to a particular vendor. The universal intermediary device, as the name implies, can be used with any EAS CAP device.

For three years, intermediary devices -- which translate CAP to EAS messages -- will only be required to pass on limited text messages. On June 30, 2015, they will be required to pass on the fuller text of a CAP message. Thus, for three years, subscribers served by intermediary devices will be getting less comprehensive information than those on systems with integrated EAS CAP devices. However, Johnson said most cable operators will use integrated devices from Monroe and Trilithic. There will be "extremely few, if any" intermediary devices, he said.

Czarnecki said that just the universal intermediary devices must be resubmitted for Part 11 certification and CAP testing, while both the component unit and the legacy device to which it links must be resubmited for both processes. "The FCC took the time to very specifically voice concerns and reservation about both forms of intermediary device," Czarnecki said. "They cautioned EAS vendors and gave them fair warning that such devices may not be capable of handling several contemplated rule-making changes that may be coming in the next several years."

Observers seem to agree that no major changes are likely between now and the June 30 deadline and that no more delays are likely. Their advice is to stay in close touch with vendors and to not delay in purchasing and deploying equipment. Petitions for Reconsideration can be filed for 30 days after the rules are published in the Federal Registry, which is expected in early February. No big changes are anticipated.

In the big picture, Johnson said, operators should continue doing what they have been. "I think cable operators for the most part are continuing on with efforts and getting ready and buying equipment for the June deadline," he said. "The open issues were more details than things that affect equipment purchases."

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Reach him at carl@btreport.net.

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