Broadband Background: Woody has been a part of the cable industry for more than 37 years. He began with Jerrold Electronics (later General Instrument and then Motorola) and "ended" with Sprint North Supply. When he retired in 2001, however, he founded his own consulting business.
Woody remains active in the SCTE. He is a past president and former at-large director. He is a Senior Member, Circle of Eagles recipient, and a member of the Cable TV Pioneers, Cable TV Pathfinders, and the SCTE Hall of Fame.
Weren’t you supposed to have retired about five years ago? What happened?
Because I wanted to keep my finger in the industry, I retired from Sprint on a Friday and started my consulting business on Monday.
My first client was Monroe Electronics, Lyndonville, NY, specializing in EAS engineering and system applications. I also added NEPTEC Optical Solutions and contracted with one of the major national MSO companies to handle a special EAS project.
Five years ago, I would have told you that by now EAS would be a dead issue because everyone needing a system would have it installed. However, I have now limited my consulting business to "just EAS," and Monroe is my main full-time client. FCC waivers for the smaller systems have continued to prolong the life cycle of the EAS business, which has been good for me.
What can you give us as far as an update on EAS standards?
All digital cable TV channels, CableCard applications and digital simulcasting have generated the need for new industry EAS standards. The SCTE has an Engineering Subcommittee working on establishing such a new standard. SCTE-18 (which will evolve into DVS-644) is still a "work in progress," as the audio portion of the EAS message has not been formalized. The uniqueness of this new standard and its supporting technology is that the EAS encoder/decoder will insert the EAS message directly into the digital stream, which will be displayed on the subscribers’ TV sets in the format of a crawl message.
All the major MSOs are in the process of either installing new EAS equipment to function with the new EAS standard, or are currently budgeting for this change in the future.
What about EAS technologies?
The SCTE-18 EAS standard has been the driver for new EAS equipment to support this new standard. The new equipment is Ethernet interface based and fully upgradeable via the Internet. They will store thousands of events including audio; provide MPEG-2 for audio source for SCTE-18; have multiple languages built in; will e-mail diagnostic reports; provide the proper support of simulcasting; and finally will eliminate troublesome thermal paper to mess with in logging for the FCC reports. These units have multiple print ports, and with the Internet logging capability, downloading all systems to a central remote logging and record-keeping location is possible.
An alternate to the EAS new technology equipment is to add digital adapters to the old encoder/decoder units. The negative to this concept is that the digital adapters are about double the cost of the new technology units. Plus, you are still missing all the capabilities and advantages of an Ethernet-based system.
Most of the original suppliers of EAS equipment are not addressing the need for this new technology equipment, but rather are phasing out of the EAS market. However, there remain multiple vendors for this new equipment.
The telcos are interested in this now, correct?
Yes, the telco interest and activity is generating the second big wave of new business for the EAS market with the first being the all-digital and simulcasting systems by the MSOs. The telco market is IPTV-based. All are compliant with the SCTE-18 (DVS-644) EAS Standard and require the new technology EAS equipment. For IPTV type of systems, the EAS equipment must support the middleware equipment used in that particular IPTV system.
Most of the telco activity is in the rural markets and with the independent telephone companies. However, the Big Bells are installing and activating IPTV systems, too. MicroSoft is developing a middleware package for AT&T (SBC) that will be field tested soon.
Has anything surprised you about how operators have used EAS or other technologies in the past five years?
I find there are a couple common misconceptions about EAS. Some operators and technicians think of EAS as being only weather-related messages, like NOAA alerts. Granted, it is true that weather messages are more common than National Emergency Alerts [EANs, "Emergency Action Notifications"], but weather alerts are merely an option, not an FCC requirement. The same is true with AMBER Alerts; they are not FCC mandated, but the FCC encourages participation. AMBER Alerts are local and state functions. However, the FCC does mandate the EAS equipment must be capable of passing along AMBER Alerts if the equipment is activated.
Another misconception is related to EAS "turn-to detail channels." This is not a procedure mandated by the FCC. It is merely an installation method choice. If the operator did not make that decision, then his supplier made that choice for him when the equipment was purchased.
Any predictions for the next five years?
The 1996 Communications Act made EAS mandatory with implementation on a scheduled basis varying by the size of the subscriber count. This followed with a series of waivers to small operators, some of which still exist today. Currently systems with 100 or fewer subscribers have their waivers extended until June 2007. I predict that within a month or so there will be a new series of waivers issued by the FCC for many of the small systems.
Some people have said perhaps EAS will fade away because there has never been an activation of an EAN, not even for 9-11, plus the continuous issuing of waivers seems to minimize its importance. However, I predict that EAS will not fade away, but instead will grow to expand its application and coverage. EAS now comes under Homeland Security, and the FCC manages and enforces the rules. Look for Homeland Security to make changes regarding EAS.