Klaas: FCC Regulatory Action on Trucker TV Could Save Lives

Posted November 3, 2011 at 1:22pm

When North Carolina truck driver Beano Francis spotted a white Ford Escort headed south on Interstate 85 in July, he recognized the car from an “Amber Alert” and quickly notified authorities. Police say the West Virginia man driving the car had “met” a 13-year-old girl online before abducting her and credited Francis for his fast action, but he was actually just the latest trucker to answer a family’s prayers and help an abducted child return safely home.

It was big news, but professional truckers responding to Amber Alerts is actually fairly common — it was even the second success story in North Carolina in July alone.

My family’s introduction to the long-haul trucker community came when my daughter Polly was kidnapped in 1993 and the drivers helped circulate flyers far and wide. You rapidly realize that truckers are out there on the roads and at highway rest stops, convenience stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants where persons on the run frequently try to escape.

So it has been a bit mind-boggling that over the past several years a broad-based alliance that includes the foundation we formed in the wake of Polly’s murder, KlaasKids, has been unable to convince the Federal Communications Commission to approve a proposal that would literally bring hundreds of thousands of new truck drivers into the missing persons loop.

The proposal we support has been made to the FCC by Clarity Media Systems LLC, a subsidiary of Flying J Inc., the company that owns and operates all those Flying J travel plazas. Under Department of Transportation regulations, commercial truckers must spend at least 10 hours or more per day resting. If the trucker’s cab becomes their “living room on the road,” then those Flying J plazas are their community centers.

However, one service that truck drivers have never been able to access in their on-road living rooms is basic television. Clarity has proposed to change that by providing 70 channels of television programming, including five of its own locally-produced channels to entertain and inform truckers. This localized, low-powered system would reach truckers in these on-road living rooms, effectively creating a video hotspot limited to within the truck-stop perimeter — but they need FCC approval.

Perhaps most importantly for those concerned with missing persons, Clarity’s proposal includes a Public Safety and Alert channel that will allow truckers to receive news flashes, special reports and full-length programming about unresolved missing person cases from local television stations, national cable and satellite channels, and Clarity channels. And in addition to high-profile cases, the service will also feature lower-profile cases that may have failed to receive media attention, including missing adults excluded by their age from the Amber Alert system.

We at the KlaasKids Foundation know firsthand the valuable role that informed long-haul drivers can play in fulfilling our mission to recover missing persons and look forward to working with the alert effort to highlight specific cases.

To many of us, this frustrating case seems like such a no-brainer: It costs the taxpayers nothing; it provides professional drivers with a service they want and need; it saves lives. We will never know how many people might have been saved in the years this has languished in the FCC process, but surely it is time to allow Clarity to implement its proposal.

Let’s face it, we sure could use more of those trucking heroes like Beano Francis in North Carolina. Families hoping for just such a miracle should not miss their chance because of regulatory inaction.

Marc Klaas established the KlaasKids Foundation in 1994, following the death of his 12-year-old daughter, kidnap and murder victim Polly Hannah Klaas.