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ACA Seeks EAS Waiver For Small Systems Lacking Broadband At Headend

The American Cable Association is asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules in a manner that would reduce administrative cost burdens of filing for waivers under the FCC's standard waiver process for cable systems that provide service to fewer than 501 subscribers and lack physical access to a wireline broadband connection at the headline to receive alert messages formatted in the Common Alert Protocol (CAP).

"ACA is concerned that the EAS Order failed to address effectively the unique burdens that the FCC's standard waiver process places on cable systems that serve fewer than 501subscribers.  To rectify this problem, ACA is urging the FCC to establish a streamlined waiver process, which would greatly reduce the regulatory burdens for very small systems that the FCC already presumes granting waivers for, without compromising the FCC's goals in establishing the CAP-compliance program," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

In the EAS order, the FCC, acknowledging the burdens of physically obtaining broadband Internet access for cable systems based in rural and low-density areas, provided a presumption in favor of a waiver through the standard waiver process and suggested firms would have to renew their waivers semi-annually.  But ACA is concerned that the standard waiver process has costs that represent a financial barrier for operators seeking relief for their systems serving fewer than 501 subscribers.  As a result, the waiver process would significantly diminish the ameliorative benefit the FCC intended to create.

Under the FCC's standard waiver procedures, a waiver applicant must meet the "good cause" standard, which requires them to devote significant administrative resources to preparing waiver requests, including the production of appropriate documentation, drafting, and placing evidence in a formal pleading for FCC review. For cable operators seeking relief for a very small system, this cost is significant based on the systems' financials. 

Expecting operators of these small systems to then renew their waivers every six months would even more significantly limit the intended relief.  In fact, some operators may simply shut down non-compliant systems, which would not serve the purpose of the EAS rules of providing "immediate communications and information to the general public at the national, state and local area levels during periods of national emergency."

In lieu of the standard waiver process, ACA recommended a streamlined waiver process for systems serving fewer than 501 subscribers based on operator-certified statements attesting to the physical unavailability of wireline broadband Internet access at the cable headend and an expedited filing and decisionmaking process that presumes the waiver is granted unless opposed within 10 days.

In a petition for reconsideration filed Friday, ACA suggested that these streamlined waivers should last at least one year and should be renewable until the operator obtains broadband Internet service at the system headend or can obtain broadband Internet service without incurring additional construction or set-up fees, such as line extension charges.

"Ample FCC precedent exists to support ACA's proposed streamlined waiver process," Polka said.  "The FCC has, for example, adopted streamlined waiver processes in analogous situations, including where small companies faced financial hardship, where companies could not obtain equipment before an enforcement deadline, and for other competitive reasons."

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