Industry, Public Safety Disagree on Some of FCC’s WEA Proposals

December 9, 2016–Industry and public safety entities, including localities, disagree on some of the proposals adopted by the FCC in September in a further notice of proposed rulemaking in its wireless emergency alert (WEA) proceeding (TRDaily, Sept. 29). For example, industry and public safety commenters that filed comments on the further notice have different opinions on whether the FCC should move ahead to mandate that carriers support multimedia messages and more precise geo-targeting. The public safety entities say it should, but the industry parties say those issues are under study but are not currently technically feasible.

The further notice was adopted along with a report and order in PS dockets 15-91 and 15-94 that made changes to the WEA in an effort to make it more useful to public safety agencies and the public, including requirements that wireless carriers support embedded URLs and phone numbers in alerts. The further notice proposes requiring carriers to support multimedia content in public safety messages and seeks views on necessary technical parameters and a compliance timeline. The types of content being contemplated are thumbnail-size pictures and hazard symbols.

The order permits carriers to use device-based geo-targeting within 30 days if they wish but does not require it. The further notice seeks comment on a reasonable compliance timeframe in which carriers will be able to match the target areas of alert originators rather than just approximate them.

It seeks comment on a compliance timeframe of 42 months from publication or 24 months from when standards are completed, whichever is sooner. The further notice also proposes requiring WEA-capable devices to preserve alerts until they expire and requiring carriers to deliver within fewer than three seconds earthquake-related alerts. And it solicits views on whether WEAs could be employed to encourage crowdsourced feedback from the community during emergencies, whether additional languages besides English and Spanish should be required, and how 5G technology could further enhance alerts. The further notice also proposes requiring carriers to report each year on critical WEA performance metrics.

In its comments, CTIA expressed concern “that the proposals within the FNPRM abandon [the] successful, cooperative [WEA] model by ignoring the recommendations that have been developed by the CSRIC and ATIS. The Commission is proposing a number of unnecessary and burdensome mandates that have not been studied, found to be feasible, or demonstrated to provide meaningful improvements to the functioning of the WEA. Should the Commission stray from the highly effective path it has employed for WEA and adopt infeasible and unnecessary requirements for CMS [commercial mobile service] providers to comply with as part of their participation, CMS participants may be forced to reconsider their support of the voluntary WEA system.”

“To ensure the continued success of the WEA program,” CTIA said that (1) “WEA enhancements should be reasonable, technically feasible, and rely heavily upon consensus recommendations provided by stakeholder bodies;” (2) “[g]eo-targeting requirements should be technologically neutral, and specifics for enhancing this capability should await action by standards bodies;” (3) “[t]he regulatory regime allowing for CMS Provider flexibility in infrastructure deployment should remain;” (4) “[t]he Commission should refrain from adopting WEA requirements that are infeasible, premature, or unnecessarily burdensome;” (5) “CMS Providers should be provided flexibility in electing support for particular WEA capabilities, so long as their delivery complies with applicable standards;” and (6) it should be recognized that “[a]doption of aspirational proposals may force CMS Providers to opt out of participation in the WEA system.”

Regarding one of the FCC’s proposals, CTIA elaborated that it “agrees with the Commission that precise geo-targeting of WEA messages would be beneficial and is a high priority for development by the wireless industry. The Commission proposes to require Participating CMS Providers to match the target area specified by alert originators. In particular, the Commission suggests two potential approaches to enhance geo-targeting functionality that would require a CMS Provider to: (1) have 100 percent of devices within the targeted area receive the Alert Message with not more than 0.1 mile overshoot; or (2) harmonize the geo-targeting accuracy for WEA with the wireless E911 indoor location accuracy requirements. As the Commission is aware, ATIS has an active inquiry ongoing in early stages to develop a technically feasible method to provide geo-targeting for WEA messages. As described below, action on either of the two [NPRM] proposals would be premature and risk harm to consumers.”

The trade group also said that “[t]here are a number of proposals in the FNPRM that have not been vetted by ATIS or CSRIC or are unduly burdensome for alert originators and other affected stakeholders. These include wide ranging proposals that address the use of WEA for earthquake alerts, preservation of alerts, integration of WEA into 5G technologies, and support for reverse messaging, additional languages, and multi-media content. CTIA believes the Commission should defer consideration of these issues until additional outreach and study has been completed.”

“The purpose of Wireless Emergency Alerts (‘WEA’) is to ‘alert the public to any imminent threat that presents a significant risk of injury or death to the public …’ By contrast, the proposals of the Further Notice seem designed to change WEA from a ‘bell ringer’ service to a full media source,” AT&T, Inc., said. “AT&T disagrees with this approach and does not think it possible given the limitations of cell broadcast technology, the underlying technology upon which WEA service was built as a bell ringer service. In some instances, the FNPRM’s proposals could be categorized as ‘nice to have,’ others would require carriers to make significant capital investment for network structure that is, at least for the foreseeable future, usable by WEA only, and still others are simply not achievable with current technology or even within the design limits of the WEA system itself.”

AT&T added that “WEA is voluntary; but, a voluntary system works only if the Commission is willing to listen to the volunteers. The industry volunteers, whose participation makes the WEA system work, have put a great deal of information in the record about the FCC’s WEA proposals, including studies by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (‘ATIS’) and other experts in the design, development, deployment, and operation of commercial mobile systems.  Unhappily, the Commission seems to have ignored this information in many instances. AT&T urges the Commission to consider more carefully the information submitted by the WEA volunteers in this proceeding. Imposing, and enforcing, unrealistic duties at exorbitant cost will both jeopardize future voluntary commitments and degrade a WEA volunteer’s enthusiastic support of the WEA program to one that is begrudging and reluctant at best or withdrawn altogether in the most extreme case.”

AT&T raised issues with many of the proposals in the further notice, including requiring devices to preserve alerts and mandating carriers to deliver earthquake-related messages within three seconds. “The Commission also proposes to require multimedia content in WEA messages. Multimedia cannot now be sent over the existing cell broadcast system; the proposal thus requires investment in an as yet uncreated, undeployed technology, which would also have no commercial application for some time to come,” the carrier said. “AT&T regards this proposal as unworkable. The Commission also proposes additional reporting and data collection requirements. AT&T sees these proposals as unnecessary burdens on a voluntary system.”

AT&T continued, “At least two of the proposals in the FNPRM strike AT&T as suitable for a single, well controlled, and managed software application. These are multi-lingual messaging and geo-targeting. In both cases, the WEA carriers’ networks can easily be overwhelmed by the yet to be defined number of languages in which a message is to be transmitted or by the demand for transmitting the alert polygon coordinates and for processing capacity in the case of having the wireless network support mobile devices in determining their location in relation to the polygon upon receipt of a WEA message. While use of an app does not entirely eliminate issues of network demand or latency, it does seem to offer a better means of accomplishing these goals.”

“The Further Notice proposes to deviate from the Commission’s technology-neutral approach to wireless emergency alerts by expanding the attestation requirements on carriers,” complained Verizon Communications, Inc. “But existing requirements already inform consumers whether a carrier’s services and devices support alert capabilities, which is what Congress intended and what consumers want and need to know. The Further Notice also proposes new capability requirements related to multimedia messaging, device-level geo-targeting, ‘many to one’ communications, and earthquake alerts that are not yet feasible and are dependent on factors outside of service providers’ control. The Commission should retain existing attestation requirements to avoid consumer confusion, and defer consideration of additional alerting capabilities pending stakeholder efforts to address the significant technical challenges.”

More specifically, Verizon said, “The proposal that alerts ‘support the transmission of hazard symbols and thumbnail-sized photos’ should remain on hold until stakeholders and consumers have real experience with the additional information that can be provided via 360-character alerts and embedded references. This capability is technically infeasible through the Broadcast SMS method used for wireless emergency alerts today, so any new rule would have to be limited ‘to devices operating on 4G LTE and future networks.’ But the ‘network congestion mitigation strategies’ needed to prevent loss of network capacity and blocking — on the part of alert originators as well as service providers — should be left to standards and best practice efforts independent of the Commission’s rules.”

Verizon also said that it’s “premature to determine what degree of precision is appropriate, much less a fixed deadline, because standards, technical specifications and the feasibility of particular approaches all will be the subject of stakeholder efforts arising out of the CSRIC V recommendations. In any case, the Commission should maintain a policy of technology neutrality and avoid rules that, for example, would favor a particular device-based approach, or favor device-based over network-based solutions.”

T-Mobile US, Inc., also urged “the Commission to ensure its proposed enhancements to WEA are realistic and achievable. Unfortunately, however, several of the FNPRM’s proposals represent wishful thinking that could lead to unintended consequences, including endangering the smooth functioning of WEA. Unrealistic technology mandates, tight timeframes, and potentially high compliance costs run the risk of undermining the program. As Commissioner O’Rielly has recognized, development of new WEA functionalities requires a reasonable timeframe. The seamless roll-out of program enhancements and continued, extensive network operator participation in this voluntary program is best ensured if operators can rely on fully developed, tested, and standardized technology.

“We also note that new features — such as embedded links and multimedia functionality — may end up placing a greater stress on networks during an emergency,” the carrier said. “The side effects of such new features should be carefully evaluated through testing before the Commission decides whether they will have a positive or negative effect overall.”

More specifically, T-Mobile urged the FCC “to allow WEA stakeholders to evaluate the options for geo-targeting before establishing firm requirements, and to recognize that the difference in the platforms used for WEA and E911 does not allow E911 location accuracy or latency standards to be employed for WEA. In addition, the WEA platform should not be used for earthquake early warning alerts because the system is not capable of end-to-end delivery of such alerts in less than three seconds as proposed by the Commission. Furthermore, WEA is not suitable for many-to-one communications, as it is purpose-built as a one-to-many messaging platform.

“T-Mobile also urges the Commission to defer consideration of multimedia and multilingual (beyond Spanish and English) alerting. Both of these requirements would produce significant increases in traffic, with unpredictable consequences for communications of essential information during an emergency, and the costs of implementation for CMS Providers must also be taken into account,” the filing said. The carrier also said “the benefit of an additional annual WEA reporting requirement is unclear. The Commission already requires Participating CMS Providers to maintain relevant information and to provide it to the Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (‘FEMA’), and some emergency managers upon request.”

ATIS echoed the concerns voiced by CTIA and carriers, saying that many of the FCC’s proposals are under study but are currently not technically feasible. “In the FNPRM, the Commission correctly acknowledges the possibility for increased network load associated with the proposed WEA multimedia content and seeks comment on whether staggering transmission of multimedia message segments could facilitate delivery of this content, while mitigating potential network congestion concerns,” it said. “ATIS does not support this approach and notes that the staggering of multimedia segments will negatively impact the timely delivery of the complete message. The technical feasibility of such an approach would also require additional study within standards organizations.”

“The Further Notice seeks comment on many additional potential improvements to the WEA system. Microsoft supports the Commission’s commitment to innovation and continued improvement,” Microsoft Corp. said. “Nonetheless, because some of the proposals in the Further Notice remain at an early stage in their development, Microsoft discusses several of them with the hope that the Commission could release more concrete recommendations for comment before adopting any final rules.”

For example, “Microsoft recommends that if multimedia (e.g., photos of limited size) is approved for alerts, it should be permitted only after applicable standards have been developed and only for AMBER alerts which, while time sensitive, are better positioned than other types of emergency warnings to tolerate a 60-second latency.”

But the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said it “agrees that having continued access to WEA messages could promote superior public safety outcomes and therefore supports the Commission’s proposal to amend section 10.500 of its rules to state that ‘WEA-capable mobile devices must preserve Alert Messages in an easily accessible format and location until the Alert Message expires.’” APCO also said it “continues to support the inclusion of multimedia content in WEA messages” as well as “the Commission’s proposal to improve geo-targeting by requiring participating wireless carriers to match the target area provided by an alert originator, and agrees that ‘matching’ the target area should mean delivery to 100% of devices within a target area with not more than 0.1 mile overshoot.”

“The Commission proposes requiring participating wireless carriers ‘to disclose sufficient information at the point of sale to allow customers to make an informed decision about whether they would consistently receive WEA Alert Messages if they were to become a subscriber.’ Promoting consumer choice and providing better notice regarding WEA at the point of sale could lead to increased use of the system, which would benefit public safety,” APCO said. “Point of sale disclosures should include information such as how WEA capabilities vary by device, network technology, or geographic area.”

As for allowing consumers to receive some alerts but not others, APCO said it “is concerned that over-customization could undermine the valuable uniformity and reliability that distinguishes WEA from other forms of wireless-based alerting and information such as social media, texting services, and mobile apps.” It also said it supports requiring carriers to submit annual reports on WEA performance.

The New York City Emergency Management Department (NYCEM) reiterated that it doesn’t think the order went far enough, but it praised a number of the proposals in the further notice. For example, it said it “strongly supports alert message preservation on mobile devices and encourages the Commission to adopt a rule requiring such preservation. However, NYCEM strongly believes that the Commission’s proposed rule requiring preservation only until the ‘Alert Message expires’ is too narrow. Instead, NYCEM asks the Commission to require preservation of WEA messages until deleted by the consumer.”

NYCEM also “strongly supports the Commission’s proposal to require carriers to transmit Earthquake Alert messages to the public in fewer than three seconds” and it endorsed “the Commission’s proposal to allow multimedia content, including thumbnail size images, in WEA messages on 4G LTE and future networks.” “Rules that require improved WEA geo-targeting is a crucial proposal under consideration by the Commission,” the filing added. “NYCEM strongly supports the adoption of rules that require WEA messages, as recommended by CSRIC V, to be received by 100% within the target area and limit overshoot to no more than 1/10 of a mile (528 feet). In order to achieve this goal, and with the understanding that the state of cell tower/sector technology cannot geo-target to this level alone, NYCEM strongly urges the Commission to require device-assisted geo-targeting. In doing so, CMSPs will leverage the native capacity of today’s mobile phones to improve the accuracy of WEA delivery.”

The City and County of San Francisco “recommends further review of the option to opt-out of WEA notifications. While recognizing the desire of an individual to customize the type of notifications one receives, the City recommends Imminent Threat alerts be exempt from the opt-out option.”

The filing also said the FCC “helps to clarify the need to match the specified geocode, circle, or polygon, but the City strongly believes the Commission should adopt in tandem the commercially available technologies utilized by countless applications in everyday use such as Uber and Lyft.”

The Nassau County, N.Y., Office of Emergency Management expressed support for embedded references and pictures in WEAs, device-assisted geo-targeting, alerts in additional languages, and a “many-to-one” capability. “The refinement of WEA geo-targeting, by facilitating the delivery of alert messages to more granular geographic polygons, would result in a number of benefits,” said a group of Texas localities. “[Coarse] geo-targeting, as used in the current WEA, has been concluded to result in a reduction in Alert Originator trust by the public, due to the reception of irrelevant alerts, and less likelihood that they will take protective action as a result of the alert. Accurate geo-targeting also prevents ‘bleed-over’ between different jurisdictions, which may be served by different Alert Originator agencies.”

The National Weather Service said it “agrees with the FCC that carriers should geotarget WEA to an area that matches the specified geocode, circle, or polygon. Rendering the WEA on 100% of the cell phones inside the actual target area plus phones no more than .10 mile outside the actual alert area should qualify as a ‘match’.  “While the FCC has established a maximum Time-To-First-Fix latency standard of 30 seconds for outdoor 911 calls, NWS considers 30 seconds to be too long to wait for some types of emergency notifications when a few seconds could mean the difference between life and death,” the filing added. “If the device cannot determine the location of the recipient within 10 seconds of receiving the WEA message, then NWS recommends the alert be automatically rendered on the device.  In no case should the device wait longer than 15 seconds to render the message.”

The NWS also recommended that the FCC hold workshops to explore offering consumers information on the types of alerts they will receive and the benefits of requiring carriers to offer alerts in languages other than English and Spanish.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responder Group (FRG) noted current efforts to fund enhanced alerting and expressed support for the FCC’s proposals. “Overly broad alert messaging can cause those that are not in imminent danger to evacuate, causing unnecessary congestion on the roadways,” it said. “Therefore, the proposed rule to improve geo-targeting of messages would also be a benefit for hurricane evacuation alerting.”

Georgia Tech’s Center for Advanced Communications Policy  (CACP), in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Inclusive Technologies  (Wireless RERC), said, “In conclusion, we look forward to the proposed advancements of WEA to improve message receipt, comprehension, and actionable information. The recommendations made herein are intended to [maximize] message diffusion and ensure the same timely and effective access to alerts and warnings for people with disabilities.”

In joint comments, the Public Broadcasting Service, America’s Public Television Stations, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting reiterated “PTV’s commitment to providing a secure and effective back-up mechanism for the transmission of Wireless Emergency Alerts (‘WEA’), and to urge the Commission to ensure that the federal funding required by the Warning, Alert and Response Network (‘WARN’) Act remains available to cover any reasonable costs that PBS and PTV stations incur to accommodate further changes to the specifications for WEA messages.”

AC&C said, “The record in this proceeding, from the original NPRM more than 8 years ago, through the recent NPRM and now the current FNPRM, Public Safety alert originators have called for improved geo-targeting of alerts. That call for change was echoed and enhanced more recently, as events in Orlando, Baton Rouge, Texas, New York, and now Tennessee have called for an alerting capability that can match the need to target alerts with the capability to do just that. As the record suggests, an enhancement exists that will address the concerns of Public Safety, significantly enhance the WEA service so that it delivers on its immense promise, and yet be low cost to wireless carriers while opening the door for a revenue generating capability. By working together, on the timeframe already established by CSRIC V, industry and Public Safety officials can make the necessary changes to standards, software and devices that will result in an enhanced public alert system capable of meeting Public Safety’s needs.” —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily