The FCC two years ago adopted a rule requiring that television stations that provide emergency information visually (e.g. through open captions or crawls), outside of news programming, convert that emergency information into audio and run that audio on SAP channels (secondary audio programming channels – usually used for Spanish language translations of English-language programs). That rule required that TV stations be ready to do that conversion by May 26. As many stations have not been able to make that conversion as the equipment is not yet ready, the NAB has requested a six-month extension of that deadline (ACA, the association representing local cable systems, requested a longer waiver a few weeks earlier). The FCC almost immediately requested public comment on the broadcaster’s request, setting an April 13 deadline for comments and an April 20 date for replies. The Commission had earlier requested comments on the ACA Petition, with comments due April 2 and replies due on April 9.
The rule requires all emergency information run outside of news programs and provided in crawls or otherwise visually (e.g. weather radar) be converted to audio, and run twice on the SAP channel, each preceded by the same audio tones that run on the main channel to alert the visually impaired that there is emergency information being run visually on the air. The NAB requested a six-month extension of the basic requirement, to November 26, indicating that the equipment has, for the most part, not yet been tested and made available to stations. It also asked for waivers or exemptions to the following requirements:
- Waiver of the requirement that visual but non-textual emergency information (usually weather radar and maps) be included in the audible crawl as there is no equipment available to provide that conversion automatically; and
- Reconsideration of the suggestion in the FCC’s order that school closings are the kinds of emergency information to be included in the conversion to SAP requirement – the NAB arguing that reading all of the school closing information on a SAP channel could take forever, especially if that information needed to be run twice, as the rules provide.
For stations not ready to meet this FCC requirement by the current May 2 deadline, filing comments in support of the NAB request may be very important, so that the FCC moves quickly to grant this extension before the new rule goes into effect.