The FCC is in the early stages of investigating how audio and video streaming platforms would participate in the Emergency Alert System.
Internet users streaming video on platforms like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix and audio on services like Spotify and Pandora might soon be interrupted by alerts—pcktshhhhhhh-poooo-wheeet “This is a test of the digital Emergency Alert System.”—like those seen and heard on traditional broadcast TV networks and radio.
The Federal Communications Commission already enables emergency alerts over broadcast television and the radio as well as cellphones, either through texts—like Amber Alerts when a child is missing—or reverse 9-1-1 calls in which emergency personnel send the same voice message to all mobile phones in their area.
Per the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the FCC is investigating redefining parts of the national Emergency Alert System, or EAS, and Wireless Emergency Alert System, or WEAS, including developing alerting requirements for online streaming platforms.
The commission issued a notice of inquiry this month and will publish an official request for public comment Tuesday in the Federal Register to determine “whether it would be technically feasible for streaming services to complete each step that EAS participants complete under the commission’s rules in ensuring the end-to-end transmission of EAS alerts, including monitoring for relevant EAS alerts, receiving and processing EAS alerts, retransmitting EAS alerts, presenting EAS alerts in an accessible manner to relevant consumers, and testing,” according to the notice of inquiry.
But the commission has a lot to work out before it can propose how this would work, let alone issue a rule with requirements for streaming services.
The first roadblock to implementation to overcome is defining what constitutes a “streaming service.”
“Neither the commission nor the NDAA21 has defined ‘streaming’ services,” the FCC notes, prompting the agency to issue a call for comments from the public for assistance.
The notice of inquiry cites a definition used by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project: “The ability of an application to play synchronized media streams like audio and video streams in a continuous way while those streams are being transmitted to the client over a data network.”
The commission notes this definition could apply to a large swath of digital media and wants feedback on whether it is appropriate or should be broadened or narrowed in scope.
The commission is also interested in hearing from any streaming services that already enable emergency alerts, including the official EAS.
The proposal has several other implementation issues, including how streaming service providers would know when to issue an alert for a specific area and how they would direct such an alert only to users in that area—problems that were worked out for broadcasters serving specific geographic areas but not for global platforms that don’t manage the infrastructure they ride on.
The notice of inquiry outlines a host of other questions that need to be answered before the commission can finalize a rule on the matter, including preventing fake alerts from being broadcast and delivering the same, relevant information across multiple types of devices, apps and screens.
For the time being, the FCC is just exploring options for enabling these alert systems on streaming platforms. The agency will create a report to submit to the relevant congressional committees before taking any official action.