FCC to Consider WEA Order at Jan. 30 Meeting

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today circulated a draft order for consideration at the agency’s Jan. 30 meeting to upgrade wireless emergency alert (WEA) geo-targeting capabilities. The item proposes a Nov. 30, 2019, deadline for wireless carriers to be able to geo-target WEAs more precisely, which would provide more time than sought by public safety entities but less time than the wireless industry wants, an agency source told TR Daily.

Also circulated today for the Jan. 30 meeting was a draft order that would establish a new Office of Economics and Analytics at the FCC, which Mr. Pai has said he wanted to create. It would have the following divisions: economic analysis, industry analysis, auctions, and data, the agency source said. Also circulated were two Media Bureau items. One deals with the deletion of a rule from the digital TV transition while the other deals with the filing of contracts. An enforcement item was also circulated, as were a Connect America Fund Phase II auction procedures public notice and order on reconsideration (see separate story).

The draft items circulated for the Jan. 30 meeting are to be publicly released tomorrow.

“When disaster strikes, it’s critical that Americans receive the information they need to stay safe.  During the last few months, we’ve seen that Wireless Emergency Alerts are an important tool for quickly delivering warnings in times of emergency,” Mr. Pai said in a statement on the draft second report and order and second order on reconsideration. “Whether you are in the path of a hurricane or a wildfire, you can receive life-saving alerts on your mobile device.  Recently, the FCC has been looking at ways to make Wireless Emergency Alerts more effective and keep the American people safer.  To that end, earlier today I shared with my colleagues proposed new rules to do just that.

“The most important feature of this proposal is the requirement that wireless carriers participating in the Wireless Emergency Alert program deliver alerts in a more geographically targeted manner,” Mr. Pai added. “Emergency officials across America have told the FCC how important it is to better pinpoint these alerts to impacted communities.  This would encourage more local officials to use these alerts during emergencies as well as lead Americans to take more seriously the alerts they receive on their mobile devices.  More precise geographic targeting should also lead to fewer people opting out of receiving WEA messages.”

In 2016, the FCC adopted an order requiring the additional WEA capabilities while seeking comments on additional improvements, including more precise geo-targeting (TR Daily, Sept. 29, 2016). The order permitted carriers to use device-based geo-targeting within 30 days if they wish but did not require it. A further notice of proposed rulemaking sought comment on a reasonable compliance timeframe in which carriers would be able to match the target areas of alert originators rather than just approximate them.

Wireless industry and public safety entities disagree on how quickly carriers should deploy improved geo-targeting capabilities, with the industry saying it needs 36 months after an order takes effect to implement the upgrade and public safety entities calling on the FCC to mandate that improvements be completed by May 2019 (TR Daily, Jan. 4 and 5). Parties have agreed on an accuracy of 1/10th of a mile within the target.

“CTIA believes in the proven life-saving capabilities of the Wireless Emergency Alert system and the ability of wireless technologies to support public safety,” Matt Gerst, assistant vice president-regulatory affairs for the trade group, said today. “The innovative location capabilities of mobile wireless devices can help public safety officials minimize the potential of over-alerting with WEA messages. We support Chairman Pai’s efforts to enhance the WEA system’s geo-targeting capabilities through device-based solutions, and believe the FCC should adopt new rules that are technically feasible along an achievable timeline.”

In an ex parte filing Friday in PS docket 15-91 reporting on meetings with FCC officials, CTIA said, “Given the significant efforts that will be necessary to support this new capability, CTIA and its member companies stated that 36 months is the most aggressive, yet achievable, timeline the Commission should adopt. In the meantime, existing WEA geo-targeting capabilities will continue to provide a meaningful level of geo-targeting in many emergency situations.”

“A principal reason that CTIA believes 36 months is necessary is due in large part to the Commission’s 2016 Order that imposed two upcoming deadlines for WEA enhancements by November 2018 and May 2019 that require iterative updates to mobile network and device standards and solutions, as well as FEMA’s IPAWS [Integrated Public Alert and Warning System] and alert originator technologies,” CTIA added. “To address this challenge and make achievable the device-based WEA geo-targeting deadlines, as proposed below, the Commission should align the upcoming WEA enhancement deadlines.”

CTIA continued, “Even with the challenges and variables CTIA described in the meetings, as an interim step, CTIA believes it may be achievable to begin the testing of new WEA enhancements with a prototype device using device-based geo-targeting methods by December 31, 2019. Participating CMS providers could also begin offering new devices with device-based WEA geo-targeting capabilities no later than 24 months after completion of necessary technical standards, as the Commission has proposed. Of course, as CTIA has noted, further evaluation is necessary to determine whether existing or legacy devices can be modified through software to support WEA geo-targeting capabilities, which ATIS has indicated could be completed by June 30, 2018.”

The filing said that “CTIA and its member companies noted that device-based WEA geo-targeting will require fundamental changes to the existing WEA system and components. For example, CTIA and its member companies noted that a mobile device configured to present a cell broadcast WEA message to the consumer does simply that — presents it — without any need to process or analyze the alert content, or change how the device functions as a result of that content. Device-based geo-targeting, in contrast, fundamentally changes how the device processes the information broadcast in the WEA message.”

Courtesy TRDaily