Commission reverses decision released in January, 2012, but still defers further consideration of TTS technology

Back in January the Commission released its Fifth Report and Order (5th R&O) in its long-running effort to modernize the Emergency Alert System. Under the new rules (many of which became effective on April 23, 2012), EAS participants are required to be able to convert CAP-formatted EAS messages into messages that comply with the EAS Protocol requirements, following the procedures for such conversion as set forth in the EAS-CAP Industry Group (ECIG) Implementation Guide

One notable exception, though, involved the Guide’s provisions concerning text-to-speech (TTS) conversion. The Commission was not confident in the accuracy and reliability of current TTS technology. Additionally, the FCC figured that it might be preferable to require TTS conversion software to be utilized by the originators of EAS messages, rather than by EAS participants – the goal being to minimize the risk of “differing, and thus confusing” audio messages that might otherwise result.

Bottom line in January: the FCC mandated that TTS conversion would not be permitted, notwithstanding the ECIG Implementation Guide.

That decision was apparently news – and disappointing news, at that – to the FCC’s EAS regulatory partner, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA fired off a petition for reconsideration, pointing out that, by prohibiting TTS conversion by EAS participants, the FCC was discouraging development of TTS technology. What’s worse, the lack of TTS conversion capability could “possibly disrupt dissemination of National Weather Service alerts, delay retrieval of referenced audio files in alerts, and impact the ability of jurisdictions with limited resources, or those with certain, already implemented CAP alerting capabilities, to issue CAP-formatted alerts.”

FEMA’s position was seconded by a number of state and local emergency management agencies, as well as the Commission’s own Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council.

That was enough for the Commission. It has revised its rules to permit, but not require, EAS participants to follow the ECIG Implementation Guide with respect to TTS. In so doing, the FCC made clear that it was still not prepared to embrace the ECIG’s adoption of TTS software configured in EAS equipment to generate the audio portion of an EAS message; rather, consideration of that particular item has been deferred.

With the publication of the rule change in the Federal Register, that change takes effect May 7, 2012.