FCC Issues Guidance for Expiring Digital Certificates for EAS Alerts Transmitted Through Internet-Based System – No Impact on Over-the-Air Broadcast Alerts

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Several years ago, the FCC mandated that broadcasters utilize not only the traditional over-the-air “daisy-chain” broadcast EAS alerting system where emergency alerts are passed from one station to another but also utilize an Internet-based Common Alerting Protocol (“CAP”) system where warnings can be sent directly to stations (see, for example, our articles here and here). As part of the rules governing those CAP-formatted alerts, EAS systems were to be configured so that they would reject alerts that did not have valid digital certificates, so that only validated alerts would end up being broadcast on stations. Most of us have had experiences where some favorite website or internet network is rejected by our computer because of an expired digital certificate. It appears that the same thing has happened to the alerts sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). The IPAWS certificate is scheduled to expire on Friday, November 8, and updated digital certificates were only forwarded to many EAS devices last week. That means that, if these devices are not updated to include the new certificates by Friday, the FEMA IPAWS alerts would be rejected by the devices installed at broadcast stations and at other EAS participants. Obviously, that would present problems if alerts from the government’s principal agency dealing with emergency matters were routinely rejected – so the FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice to address the issue.

According to yesterday’s Public Notice, if their EAS receivers become defective, broadcasters and other EAS participants can still be considered to be in compliance with FCC rules for a period of 60 days. Given the late distribution of the updated digital certificates, the FCC said that stations will have that 60-day period, until January 7, 2020, to update the digital certificates in their EAS devices so that they will accept the IPAWS alerts. The FCC cautions that broadcasters should work to get their devices updated as soon as possible. If, for any reason, they cannot get into compliance by January 7, they must seek FCC permission for continued operations after that date. The FCC notes that this issue does not affect broadcaster’s over-the-air operations, so alerts should still be able to be transmitted and received in the traditional manner, even if the Internet-based alerts are rejected by some devices. Stations should start now to update their CAP-based systems so that their digital certificates are up to date and can receive the IPAWS alerts as soon as possible.

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