More Cities Seek Device-Assisted Geo-Targeting for WEAs

September 23, 2016–Additional cities have stressed that the FCC should require device-assisted geo-targeting in the wireless emergency alert (WEA) order it plans to adopt at its Sept. 29 meeting. As circulated, the order would increase the maximum length of WEA messages to 360 characters, limit the use of embedded phones numbers and other information to Amber Alerts, establish the new class of emergency government information alerts, require carriers to deliver alerts to smaller geographic areas, and facilitate WEA testing by state and local authorities and personnel training, an FCC official has told TRDaily. The order would also require providers to support alerts in Spanish.

A draft further notice of proposed rulemaking would seek information on what kinds of technologies could be used to further improve WEAs and explore whether alerts should be supported in languages other than English and Spanish. It also would solicit opinions on better ways to inform consumers about WEAs. Under the order, WEAs would be sent to more granular geographic areas through geo-targeting. But the area that would get an alert would be based on devices receiving signals from a particular cell tower or towers. A handset-based approach could provide alerts on a much more granular level; the FCC plans to explore that method in the companion further notice, according to another agency source.

In ex parte filings this week, a number of additional localities pressed the FCC to require device-assisted geo-targeting in the order rather than considering it in the further notice, saying that such greater granular targeting is crucial. They also stressed the importance of supporting WEA embedded links and images, multilingual capability, and “many-to-one” capability.

New York City officials continued to weigh in with letters from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D.), New York Police Commissioner James O’Neil, and New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. Authorities cited the alerts that were sent out last weekend during a manhunt for the suspect in the New York City and New Jersey bombings and said enhancements to the system would help in future emergencies. Other localities submitting filings in PS docket 15-91 included Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Nassau County, NY.

Meanwhile, CTIA addressed both handset-aided geo-targeting and embedded URLs in WEAs in separate ex parte filings. “In recent days, several parties have requested that device-based geo-targeting be included in the upcoming Report and Order, instead of being addressed in a Further Notice. Consistent with the recent CSRIC V recommendations and the rulemaking record, the Commission should absolutely move forward with a technically feasible and appropriate proposal in a Further Notice, and should make clear that nothing in the upcoming Report and Order will preclude service providers from pursuing technically feasible device-based geo-targeting methods in the interim,” CTIA said in a filing yesterday. “These filings, however, raise additional technical questions that have not been resolved or fully vetted in the record before the Commission. Therefore, using them as a basis for new rules in the forthcoming Report and Order unnecessarily raises both technical and procedural issues.”

The trade group said that “in attempting to rebut the technology challenges that ATIS previously described, these parties raise far more technical questions than they answer. For example, the assertion that all the necessary geo-targeting capabilities will reside in a wireless handset is inaccurate — displaying a map on the device that incorporates the polygon and GPS information must involve interaction with the underlying network. Additionally, these types of features will also require network infrastructure standardization and time periods for implementation and testing. These parties also argue that these capabilities could be implemented within 30 months, yet the CSRIC V report on which they rely suggests a period of 48 months.”

CTIA added that “moving forward with new device-based geo-targeting rules raises significant notice and comment problems that also jeopardize future collaboration in the CSRIC. In December 2015, ATIS released a consensus report raising significant technical issues concerning device-based geo-targeting. Vendors supporting device-based geo-targeting did not attempt to rebut those findings until just last Friday – long after the rulemaking notice and comment period ended this past winter and notwithstanding ample opportunities to do so in the intervening months. And while they cite to the CSRIC V WG2 report, that document only appeared on the FCC’s website within the last couple days. CTIA and its members on the CSRIC V support the WG2 report, but for the Commission to rely on a non-public document as a basis for new rules at this time raises fundamental APA notice and comment issues. The alerting activity from this past weekend demonstrates that adoption of the Commission’s proposed polygon-based geo-targeting approach will enable alert originators to meaningfully target their alerts in the near term while wireless providers and alert originators take the necessary time to assess the best methods for a device-based approach.”

In a filing today reporting on a conversation yesterday with Jessica Almond, legal adviser to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, CTIA said it “discussed the efficacy of requiring the use of embedded URLs across the Wireless Emergency Alert (‘WEA’) system. CTIA and its member companies have for several years strongly supported the development, use, and evolution of the WEA service and seeks to enhance and supplement the service. However, the hallmark of WEA has been the voluntary nature of the service that accounts for the unique aspects of cell broadcast technology, which was specifically developed to enable clear and succinct mass notifications to protect wireless subscribers while minimizing congestion and adverse impacts to wireless providers’ networks. CTIA encourages the Commission to continue a collaborative approach that allows the wireless industry to enhance and upgrade the WEA service without mandated outcomes that could lead to consumer confusion and wireless network congestion.


“Before considering use of embedded URLs across all WEA alert categories that provide access to additional content outside of the WEA service, a substantial effort among all stakeholders would be needed to develop and implement standards, agree on approaches to mitigate customer confusion and safeguard against adverse impacts to wireless networks,” the trade group added. “It would require alert originators to use low-bandwidth URLs enabled for wireless access protocol with adequate provisioning and security protections so that citizens may safely access the URLs (whether directly or indirectly) to get to images or photos of missing children or suspects while mitigating the risk of blocking. Enabling liberal use of URLs by alert originators will also increase data usage beyond the network traffic ‘spikes’ that already occur in the wake of these events and in response to these alerts. Indeed, the failure of the Commission to adequately account for these considerations could ultimately harm public safety and consumers by hindering access to information at the times most critical for ensuring access to wireless networks.

The filing continued, “Industry standards with a development process likely well in excess of one year would be necessary to enable consumers to access the URL directly. The Commission should carefully consider and address the issue of how adding URLs would impact compatibility with legacy devices, as it is infeasible for the embedded base of handsets to provide direct access to the URL.” – Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily