FCC Settles Probes into Misused WEA/EAS Tones

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The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau Thursday reached settlements with a broadcast television network, two cable networks and a radio station owner for improperly using Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) or Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones. Stations use towers to broadcast alerts. The broadcaster transmitting the signal, not necessarily the tower owner, can be fined. 

Episodes of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and Discovery’s “Lone Star Law,” as well as promos aired by Meruelo Radio Holdings, licensee of Los Angeles-area KDAY-AM and KDEY-FM’s morning radio show, all aired actual or simulated alert tones in violation of the Commission’s rules, according to the bureau. Combined, the companies agreed to pay more than $600,000 in civil penalties, and each committed to a compliance plan to ensure the actions do not recur.  

The FCC considers airing actual or simulated WEA or EAS tones during non-emergencies, public service announcements or outside of proper testing, to be a serious public safety concern. That’s why it’s prohibited. 

“The use of simulated or actual EAS codes or the WEA or EAS Attention Signals (which are composed of two tones transmitted simultaneously), for non-authorized purposes—such as commercial or entertainment purposes—can confuse people or lead to ‘alert fatigue,’ whereby the public becomes desensitized to the alerts, leading people to ignore potentially life-saving warnings and information,” says the agency in an Enforcement Advisory. In the case of EAS, the agency worries airing EAS tones can trigger a “false activation,” leading to the spread of false information and locking out legitimate activations. The FCC may issue sanctions for such violations, “including, but not limited to, monetary forfeitures.”  

The settlements end FCC Enforcement Bureau investigations following what the agency says are these outlets’ illegal airing of alert tones. All the companies admitted to the violations, agreed to pay fines varying from $67,000 to $395,000, and committed to a compliance plan.  

The specific settlements include:

  • ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” – On October 3, 2018, ABC broadcast an episode of the late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” which used a simulated WEA tone three times during a comedic sketch. ABC transmitted the episode nationwide to 250 TV stations, including eight of its owned and operated stations, which in turn broadcast the episode in their markets. ABC agreed to pay a $395,000 civil penalty. 
  • Animal Planet’s “Lone Star Law” – Discovery’s Animal Planet network broadcast an episode of “Lone Star Law” entitled “Thousand Year Flood,” which included an actual WEA signal. The crew was filming Texas Game Wardens following Hurricane Harvey and caught the tone of a real wireless alert received by phones during filming. Discovery transmitted the episode eight times to cable and satellite systems nationwide from January to March 2018. Discovery agreed to pay a $68,000 civil penalty.
  • AMC’s “The Walking Dead” – In February 2019, AMC Networks twice included EAS tones in the “Omega Episode” of its television program, “The Walking Dead.” This was transmitted on eight separate instances across cable and satellite systems nationwide. AMC agreed to pay a $104,000 civil penalty.
  • Meruelo Radio Holdings – In the fall of 2017, Meruelo’s KDAY-AM and KDEY-FM included a simulation of an EAS signal in a promotion for its morning show. The promotion was broadcast 106 times on KDAY and 33 times on KDEY-FM’s simulcast of KDAY. The licensee agreed to pay a $67,000 civil penalty.

August 16, 2019   

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