HD Radio Multicasts Must Carry EAS on Dec. 31

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HD Radio Multicasts Must Carry EAS on Dec. 31

Dec 6, 2006 9:30 AM, By Chriss Scherer, editor

Washington - Dec 5, 2006 - With the coming of the new year comes an EAS requirement of which many FM stations may not be aware. In FCC EB Docket 04-296, the FCC ruled that emergency messaging capabilities must be added to the newer digital transmission technologies such as HDTV, HD Radio and satellite radio.

For radio stations transmitting a digital signal, compliance with this rule is already in place on the main channel because the FCC rules require the analog and digital main channels to carry the same programming. However, stations transmitting a multicast program (HD2, HD3, etc.) may not have an in-place method of transmitting EAS messages.

The FCC ruling was passed in November 2005 (access on the FCC Edocs filing system by searching for FCC 05-191). The details of the rules for terrestrial radio are in section III D.

The rules require stations to carry national EAS messages on all digital channels. Participation in state and local EAS activations will be voluntary, as it currently is for analog radio broadcasts. The rulemaking states that if a digital broadcaster chooses to participate in state and local EAS activations, he must comply with the Commission's Part 11 EAS rules. In reviewing the potential burden of carrying EAS messages on multicast streams, the FCC concluded that the costs of complying with the EAS requirements are outweighed by the public safety benefits of ensuring that all listeners receive EAS messages.

In the rulemaking, the FCC noted that broadcasters had more than one year to comply with the new rule, so it's unlikely that the FCC will be lenient in any citations of noncompliance.

There are four options for stations with multicast streams to take to ensure compliance:
1. Create the necessary switching to use a single EAS encoder for all the program streams.
2. Purchase additional EAS encoders for each multicast stream.
3. Cease transmitting a multicast signal until compliance is possible.
4. Prepare to pay the possible FCC fines.