Advanced Emergency Information Is Key To Winning Federal Support For ATSC 3.0

As they look to bolster support from the FCC, broadcasters would do well to get behind its Advanced Emergency Information component.

Last month, the National Association of Broadcasters and key executives called on the FCC to provide support for the television industry’s transition to NextGen TV, also known as ATSC 3.0. Outlined in an ex parte filing, requests from NAB included asking Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to establish an internal “task force” to explore ways to help accelerate the transition to the new standard. The broadcasters rightly cited the consumer benefits of the preservation of free, over-the-air broadcasting, including — importantly — local news.

However, the ex parte filing made no mention of a superpower that was key to FCC approval of voluntary transmission in ATSC 3.0 in the first place: advanced emergency alerting. Recent work by the Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) Alliance and our partners has validated deep interest at the grassroots level for using NextGen TV to provide improved emergency messaging. And it’s been continually cited in remarks by FCC commissioners as a key reason they support ATSC 3.0.

NextGen Broadcasting’s Original Promises

In seeking approval for the new standard in 2017, advanced alerting was featured front-and-center by national organizations and major broadcasting companies. And it worked: Voluntary transmission was approved in February 2017.

Since then, AWARN has collaborated with key stakeholders to define the “what” of NextGen alerting and build support for its voluntary deployment. After a long on-ramp, support at the grassroots level for what we now call Advanced Emergency Information (AEI) has mushroomed in the past 12 months.

With local partners, AWARN has convened a series of regional roundtable discussions that brought together local stations and emergency managers. They came together enthusiastically, often meeting each other for the first time, and expressed support for local agreements to deploy AEI.


At the same time, work on the “how” of next-gen alerting is coming together. At the AWARN Raleigh Roundtable in January, Sinclair Broadcasting’s ONE Media 3.0 and Capital Broadcasting’s WRAL Raleigh, N.C., worked together to provide live AEI demonstrations. The alerting authorities were impressed.

The ability to offer a new, life-saving service, combined with the kind of grassroots support we’ve generated through the roundtables, is an advocate’s dream. With the industry now urging federal support for the ATSC transition, it’s more important than ever that the work of AWARN continue. Unfortunately, financial support for AWARN from broadcasters has dropped off in 2023, just when the industry needs it most.

Beyond An Internal Task Force

AWARN fully supports NAB’s request for an internal FCC task force. We also are renewing our call for the commission to look externally and convene a cross-industry initiative to develop a voluntary roadmap to improve alerting. This initiative, first proposed by the FCC itself in 2016, with the support of Comcast and NCTA, would bring together top executives from media and telecom to explore strategies.

We also agree with NAB that the adoption of ATSC 3.0 receivers is the single biggest factor in the success of the transition. So, we all are calling upon any FCC task force to explore strategies to seed the marketplace with transition set-top boxes. Ideas include funding through the massive investments in climate resilience provided by Congress and the Biden administration.

Let’s Make A Deal

Bottom line: If the broadcasting industry wants federal support for the NextGen Broadcast deployment while avoiding mandates, it has the opportunity to put a win-win offer on the table. AEI can be part of a classic trade-off. Especially with the government’s focus on climate resilience, of which better alerting is an important part, recommitting to AEI is a winner for the broadcasting industry.

John Lawson is president of Convergence Services, through which he manages the AWARN Alliance. He is also a co-founder of America’s Emergency Network, which combines alerting from FM and NextGen TV stations.

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