The Federal Communications Commission is asking a federal appeals court to toss out a challenge to its Emergency Alert System regulations. The FCC says proposals that it create a “designated hitter” program are “technically and practically unfeasible.” It also argues that it would be burdensome on EAS participants.
The filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is in response to a lawsuit brought last month by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The civil rights organizations asked the court to overturn the agency’s March decision, which stopped short of requiring stations to transmit multilingual EAS messages. The FCC concluded that implementing such a mandate would be “difficult if not impossible to do” within the existing EAS architecture. Instead, it decided “voluntary arrangements” among EAS participants are currently sufficient to reach local communities. The agency did however require broadcasters to begin reporting all the steps—if any—that they take to distribute alerts in other languages.
In their appeal, MMTC and LULAC say simply collecting information is “absurd” in light of “abundant evidence that most stations and broadcasters are doing nothing at all.” And they say any technical complications are a result of the agency’s own poor decision-making by relying on an “outdated system” to distribute EAS alerts.
But the FCC rejects that argument. “There is no basis for that request,” it tells the court. “The Commission’s decision not to adopt MMTC’s proposals was firmly grounded on the agency’s determination that the proposals were incompatible with the EAS system architecture, or otherwise impracticable.”
In defending its actions, the FCC tells the appeals court that it found “scant support” for MMTC’s proposals, noting that’s critical in a proposal built on a foundation of voluntary participation. Broadcasters largely agreed that state and local authorities are best positioned to translate alerts, not stations, the FCC tells the court. The government also says the proposed “designated hitter” plan—which would have a dedicated general market station step in if an ethnic broadcaster goes dark—also lacked specificity and would require “significant” coordination among all the players.
The agency tells the court that it made sense not to require stations to be responsible for generating multilingual alerts. “Doing so would in many cases require EAS Participants to manually translate alerts, leading to a higher risk of error and delays,” it says, adding, “Each station would have to employ a translator or a translation service on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis, and there would be a significant risk that the translations would differ widely.”
The FCC goes on to tell the court that the number of languages spoken in various communities increases the burden on EAS participants, explaining the majority of which lack the staff and resources to accurately translate alerts in foreign languages in the first place. And the FCC says a “one-size-fits-all mandate” would also “undermine” the automated design of EAS.
It goes on to say that the “designated hitter” plan is “technically unfeasible” with the current EAS architecture since a translated version of an alert might be rejected by monitoring stations as a duplicate of the original English-language message. There’s also the complication of aligning alert languages and local populations. “A monitoring station would run the risk of broadcasting a message in a language not representative of any segment of that station’s viewers or listeners,” the FCC says. It also rejects the idea that the current EAS rules arbitrarily distinguish between persons with disabilities and those with limited proficiency in the English language.
Where does America’s Limited English Proficient population live? See the latest government map HERE.