US-based streaming media subscribers may soon receive bonus content from the government. On Wednesday, July 18th, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, in collaboration with South Dakota’s Sen. John Thune introduced a new bill that would ‘explore’ the idea of requiring online media services like Netflix and Spotify to send out emergency alerts.
You may remember 2018 started with a bang – almost. In mid-January, thousands of Hawaii residents received an alarming text from the state that suggested a nuclear attack was imminent. Said text, which read in part – ‘BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII’ – came during a period of aggressive posturing between North Korea and the US. While the false alarm did cause fear and panic throughout the state, in subsequent investigations that followed, we discovered some residents never received an alert at all.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a sitting Hawaii lawmaker is co-sponsoring the bill. Dubbed the READI Act – or more specifically, the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2018 – this proposed legislation aims to create a modernized emergency alerts system that extends its reach to audio and video streaming platforms. In addition, the bill aims to improve the overall alert vetting process to avoid mistakes such as observed in Hawaii.
There are also plans to implement a more robust and practical protest system. Within READI is language that would empower citizens who receive false alerts to formally complain to the FCC. This may come in handy because, if passed as written, the READI Act would stop allowing phone users to opt out of certain types of federal alerts.
While Netflix and Spotify were used as examples during the senators’ joint press conference, neither platform was named in the actual text of the bill. According to Gizmodo, the bill solicits a report from the Federal Communications Commission that details “the feasibility of establishing systems and signaling to offer Emergency Alert System alerts to audio and video streaming services delivered over the internet.” The FCC is given a full 270 days to submit its findings to Congress.