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ACA To FCC: Latest EAS Rules Could Prematurely Shut Down Some Small Cable Systems

American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka urged the Federal Communications Commission to consider new Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules, saying regulations released on Jan. 10 could cause some small cable systems to shut down prematurely.

"ACA recognizes the importance of the Emergency Alert System, and that cable operators, along with broadcasters, play an important role in informing the public of emergencies.  But ACA is highly disappointed with the FCC's decision to impose new rigid and costly regulatory mandates on the nation's very smallest cable systems," Polka said.

Both ACA and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association urged the FCC to provide an exemption from Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) compliance for cable systems that do not have a physical Internet connection at their headends. The FCC did not agree.

ACA has a number of members that have systems that fall into this category, and the FCC's decision will now require them not only to upgrade their existing EAS equipment, but also to obtain Internet service at their headends when many of these systems are located in areas where a physical connection is not available.  Adding to the burden was the FCC's decision to consider waivers only on a case-by-case basis while suggesting that any waivers granted will be limited to a maximum of six months. 

"Because the FCC did not adopt or even consider a streamlined waiver process, ACA members will have to absorb the added expense of retaining counsel to draft waivers and track their progress within the agency after they have been submitted. Thus, cable operators that can't afford to comply with the FCC's EAS mandates will be required to engage in a waiver process that could cost even more," Polka said.

The majority of systems that do not have a physical Internet connection serve from a few dozen to a few hundred subscribers.  Most are struggling to break even today, and some are losing money. Their inability to shoulder the cost of new regulatory burdens, both through EAS-CAP compliance and a waiver process, will likely lead some to shut down their cable systems prematurely, Polka added.

"This unfortunate outcome would not only deny the customers of these systems the multichannel video programming services they are receiving, but also their existing cable-delivered emergency alert services. And in some cases, it would also deny access to broadcast TV-delivered EAS services where subscribers of these systems reside beyond the reach of the broadcasters' over-the-air transmissions," Polka explained.

Polka urged the FCC to recognize the harshness of its rules and take corrective measures.

"The FCC's unwillingness to recognize the financial strain of the EAS-CAP regime on many small cable companies by establishing a streamlined waiver process is terribly disappointing and should be reconsidered promptly," Polka said.

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