FCC to Consider WEA, CAF-II, Economic Office Items Jan. 30

The FCC is tentatively scheduled to consider seven items at its Jan. 30 meeting, including those upgrading wireless emergency alerts (WEAs), addressing Connect America Fund Phase II issues, and creating a new Office of Economic and Analytics (OEA). The agency also tentatively plans to consider Media Bureau items dealing with eliminating a requirement on the submission of paper copies of contracts and other documents and the deleting obsolete digital TV transition rules. An Enforcement Bureau item, for which no details were provided, was also on the tentative agenda released this afternoon.

A fact sheet on the WEA item in PS docket 15-91 noted that a draft second report and order would “[r]equire participating wireless providers to deliver alerts to an area that matches the target area specified by the alert originator, specifically by delivering the alert to 100 percent of the target area that overlaps with the wireless provider’s network coverage area, with no more than 0.1 mile overshoot. This enhanced geo-targeting requirement would go into effect November 30, 2019.”

It also would “[r]equire participating wireless providers to ‘best approximate’ the target area where their network infrastructure or where the mobile device is technically incapable of matching the specified target area.” In addition, the item would “[r]equire that WEA-capable mobile devices preserve alert messages in a consumer-accessible format and location for at least 24 hours after the alert is received on the device. This requirement would also go into effect November 30, 2019.”

The item also would (1) “[d]efine participation in WEA ‘in whole’ as when wireless providers agree to transmit WEA alert messages in the entirety of their geographic service area, and when all mobile devices that they offer at the point of sale are WEA-capable”; and (2) “[d]efine participation in WEA ‘in part’ as when wireless providers agree to transmit WEA alert messages in some, but not all, of their geographic service area, or when not all mobile devices that they offer at the point of sale are WEA-capable.”

A draft second order on reconsideration would “[a]lign the effective date for supporting Spanish-language alert messages with the deadline for extending the length of alert messages from 90 to 360 characters; the new compliance deadline for supporting Spanish-language alerts would therefore be May 1, 2019.”

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 the 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.

“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, CTIA’s assistant vice president-regulatory affairs, said in a statement 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.”

Derek Poarch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, said, “APCO is pleased to see that the draft WEA Order proposed by Chairman Pai would enhance geo-targeting for alerts on an appropriately accelerated timeframe and provide for alert message preservation.  These improvements to WEA will make our communities safer and make it easier for public safety professionals to manage emergencies.”

Francisco Sanchez, deputy emergency management coordinator for Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, said, “The proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai to deliver life-saving alerts in a more geographically targeted manner is both bold and necessary. The deadly hurricanes of 2017, the Las Vegas shooting, the attempted terror attack in New York City and catastrophic California wildfires have highlighted the need for WEA to be revamped so it is in line with today’s technology.

“Chairman Pai’s proposal will empower local public safety officials with the tools necessary to keep WEA relevant and their communities safer,” Mr. Sanchez added. “Equally as important, it will build trust in the system by citizens who rely on it for life-saving information. If adopted, it will be the single most important improvement to the nation’s alerts and warnings infrastructure in years. Chairman Pai’s proposal to improve WEA by November 2019 is above all, doable.  It is my hope that Commissioner Mike O’Reilly and the other FCC commissioners will side with using the technology that is already on our phones today to save lives.  We can do this now, and waiting beyond 2019 will simply put lives at risk.”

The FCC also plans to consider a CAF-II order and order on reconsideration in WC docket 10-90 and a CAF-II public notice in AU docket 17-182.

The order on reconsideration would address remaining issues raised by parties that challenged the agency’s orders implementing the CAF-II auction, which will award up to $1.98 billion over 10 years.

A fact sheet said the order on reconsideration would resolve petitions that challenged the FCC’s decision on “how to compare bids of different performance levels, standalone voice requirements, deployment benchmarks and eligibility, and state-specific bidding weights, among other matters.” The FCC also would “[m]odify the Commission’s letter of credit rules to provide some additional relief for Phase II auction recipients by reducing the costs of maintaining a letter of credit.”

The order would amend the regulations to reflect a change made in an order that was not codified because of an oversight. The public notice would adopt the final bidding procedures for the auction, which would begin on July 24. It would establish a short-form application deadline of March 30. Among other things, the public notice would “[a]dopt census block groups as the minimum geographic area in which areas eligible for support can be grouped for bidding in the auction,” a fact sheet noted. It would “[a]dopt a simplified multi-round, descending clock auction.”

Also tentatively on tap for the Commission is consideration of an order in MD docket 18-3 to create the new OEA, which would have four divisions. “The first would be the Economic Analysis Division, which would work closely with staff across the Commission’s bureaus and offices on rulemakings, adjudications, transaction reviews and related activities that require economic analysis,” Mr. Pai said in a blog posting today. “The second would be the Industry Analysis Division, which would collect and analyze key data sets that the agency relies on to understand market trends.  The third would be the Auctions Division.  These days, people tend to think about wireless spectrum when they hear the phrase ‘FCC auctions.’  But the market-based allocation of public resources goes well beyond that.  We conduct auctions today on things like distributing federal broadband subsidies and radio licenses — and these auctions currently involve multiple FCC bureaus.  So we propose to place the responsibility for structuring auctions within the Office of Economics and Analytics.  Fourth and finally, the Office would have a Data Division, which would aim to ensure that data can be shared, compared, and analyzed across different bureaus to better inform the Commission’s work.”

A staff report released today discussed the creation of the office and other changes that it says are necessary to ensure that economics is adequately considered in FCC actions.

“This report presents a recommended plan for reforms at the FCC — encompassing organizational structures, authorities, and practices — to better incorporate economic analysis as well as data management as part of the agency’s regular operation,” it said. “The centerpiece of this plan is a new Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), with delegated authority designed to better integrate economic analysis into the FCC’s decision-making. The plan also identifies a set of new practices intended to make such integration common across the agency. The goal of these reforms is to consistently apply economics to produce better policy, to the ultimate benefit of the American public.”

The report recommends that most the FCC’s economics be housed in the new office “while the majority of data management experts would remain in the Bureaus and Offices where they currently serve.”

It said that the OEA “would be authorized to carry out functions aligned with its role in providing expertise in economic and data analysis, as well as the existing functions of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Auctions and Spectrum Access Division (Auctions Division), and the Wireline Communication Bureau’s Industry Analysis and Technology Division (IATD). In addition, OEA would be authorized to take the lead on establishing and implementing Commission-wide data-management policies in coordination with other Bureaus and Offices.”

“The third major component of the plan is a set of practices — some formal, some informal — which would help OEA to successfully carry out its functions,” the report said. “By ‘practices’ we mean the use of new activities, processes, or tools that can improve the way the Commission goes about its work. These practices seek to address problems that we have identified but that may not be adequately addressed by the new Commission structure and OEA authorities alone. These practices also may help to create a culture that values collaboration across the agency, a consistent application of economic thinking, and ultimately, an environment that promotes sound policy to the benefit of the American public.”

For example, it recommends that OEA and the Office of General Counsel “develop an internal guidance memo on how economic analysis is to be incorporated into Commission decision-making” and says that “OEA should produce a separate, non-public memorandum on economic issues to accompany documents circulate to the Commission.” The report also recommends that OEA “participate in all economist hiring for the Commission” and says that an OEA economist should be “assigned to each team working on major rulemakings.”

Also at the Jan. 30 meeting, the FCC tentatively plans to consider a notice of proposed rulemaking in MB dockets 18-4 and 17-105 “proposing to eliminate the requirement that broadcast licensees and permittees routinely submit paper copies of contracts and other documents to the FCC as specified in Section 73.3613 of the Commission’s rules,” according to the tentative agenda. It also plans to consider an order in MB docket 17-105 “deleting rules made obsolete by the Digital TV transition.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com