Broadcasters, cable firms protest FCC emergency plan

Broadcast and cable television companies are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission’s new plans for emergency alert messages.

Trade groups this month told the FCC that its new proposed guidelines for the text that crawls at the top of the screen during a flood, snowstorm or other emergency aren’t necessary and could be expensive.

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Current cable systems “generally display visual crawls that are readable by viewers, do not pass too quickly, and continue throughout the duration of the EAS [Emergency Alert Service] activation,” the National Cable and Telecommunications Association told the FCC this month. “Standardizing the appearance of EAS messages for speed and size is unnecessary to address accessibility concerns and would lead to significant cost with little benefit.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, too, objected to the FCC’s attempt to write new standards for the text messages during emergency alerts.

“Given the multiplicity of sources that may deliver EAS messages and emergency information to stations — some of which a broadcast television station may or may not control — and the various ways stations may present that information, imposing specific standards for the visual presentation of EAS text crawls would not be an effective approach to enhancing the accessibility of EAS crawls,” the group said.

The FCC is working on new guidelines for the text that runs during an alert as part of its broader overhaul of the emergency system that will create a new national location code for transmitting emergency messages nationwide. 

Some critics had said that the current text alerts can go by too quickly to be readable, prompting the FCC to look to create a standardized system.

A coalition of disability advocacy organizations, for instance, “strongly recommended” a standardized system of emergency messages that included slower text crawl and larger font. 

The broadcaster group, however, criticized the commission with basing its proposal on closed captioning rules, which would require “full spelling and correct punctuation,” it warned, even though many messages from agencies like the National Weather Service use shorthand to get their message across.

“The closed captioning rules are not a useful model for EAS text crawls,” the National Association of Broadcasters wrote.