FCC Seeking to Split Difference in WEA Mandate Timeline

A second report and order circulated yesterday for tentative consideration at the FCC’s Jan. 30 meeting indicates that the agency does not fully support the deployment timelines suggested either by the wireless industry or public safety entities for improving the geographic accuracy of wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) (TR Daily, Jan. 9). CTIA had suggested that the FCC give the industry 36 months from the effective date of an order to deploy enhanced geo-targeting, while public safety entities said such an upgrade should be implemented by May 2019.

“We require Participating CMS Providers to comply with this requirement by November 30, 2019,” the draft order in PS dockets 15-91 and 15-94 says. “CSRIC V proposed a timetable of 42 months after the adoption of a Commission Order requiring precise geo-targeting, which would translate into July 2021. The WEA FNPRM proposed a similar compliance deadline. But emergency managers indicate that ‘improvements to geo-targeting are critical to the future success of the WEA system’ because of the problems associated with over-alerting and subscriber opt-out and strongly urge implementation on a faster timetable. AT&T, Verizon, and AC&C agree that earlier compliance is feasible. Verizon and AC&C observe that industry is already in the early stages of developing technical standards to support device-based geo-targeting, and ATIS is expected to complete its analysis of device support for this requirement by June 30, 2018. Verizon and AT&T agree that compliance is feasible in a shorter timeframe than the Commission proposed, given the approach we describe here. We accordingly believe an earlier deadline than originally contemplated is both necessary and feasible.

“CTIA states that 36 months is an achievable timeline for implementation of enhanced geo-targeting, and indicates that legacy and existing devices may be capable of supporting enhanced geo-targeting in less than 36 months. Public safety officials, however, state that ‘a 36-month implementation timeline is simply too long given the current and future threat environment’ and urge the Commission to adopt a May 2019 compliance deadline. We find the 36-month timeframe suggested by Participating CMS Providers to lack the kind of precise and detailed justification necessary to outweigh the urgent need for precise geo-targeting articulated by public safety,” the draft order says.

“The record in this proceeding shows that the urgent public safety benefits of enhanced geo-targeting necessitate an expedited compliance timeframe. We are concerned that without decisive Commission action, precise geo-targeting will remain unavailable to emergency managers, that its unavailability will continue to lead to subscriber opt-out due to over-alerting, and that lives may be lost in the meantime. But we recognize that the requirement we adopt today will necessitate completion of ongoing standards development, device updates, software integration and testing,” the order adds. “Based on the record currently before us, we disagree that the May 2019 compliance timeframe proposed by public safety is sufficient for Participating CMS Providers to reasonably complete these tasks. The current record suggests that the deployment of 360-character alerting by May 2019 will facilitate the testing and deployment of precise geo-targeting – and so some amount of time thereafter may be necessary. However, Participating CMS Providers concede that the standards process is already underway, and expect that subsequent steps, including software and network updates, can occur in parallel. We note that in the September 2016 WEA R&O, the Commission made clear that it ‘expect[ed] that Participating CMS providers will continue to innovate’ to further the ‘ultimate objective [that] Participating CMS Providers . . . match the target area provided by an alert originator.’ We expect that Participating CMS Providers have made advancements towards more accurate geo-targeting in the intervening 16 months and will not need an extensive period for deployment and testing after the deployment of 360-character alerts by May 2019. Accordingly, and given our experience with other wireless standards development processes, we believe that compliance by November 30, 2019 is feasible and required in the public interest.”

A companion second order on reconsideration would grant a CTIA petition for reconsideration “to the extent that it requests that the Commission extend the compliance deadline for supporting Spanish-language Alert Messages from two years to 30 months from the rule’s publication in the Federal Register, to be consistent with the deadline for the rule that CMS Providers support WEA messages of up to 360 characters in length. Accordingly, this rule will become effective May 1, 2019.”

The item adds, “We are persuaded that aligning the Spanish-language alert implementation compliance timeframe with the 360-character length requirement timeframe will both ensure that Spanish-language alerts are as effective as possible and will reduce costs for Participating CMS Providers. Absent such relief, Participating CMS Providers would have to incur separate costs of testing for both Spanish-language and 360 character WEA messages. Moreover, because the alerts in Spanish can require more characters than the equivalent alerts in English, implementing this requirement prior to implementation of the 360-character WEA message length will decrease the ‘headroom’ available to alert initiators to craft WEA messages within the WEA character limit. Further, we find that requiring implementation of Spanish-language alerts six months earlier than the 360-character deadline is burdensome when weighed against the likely benefits.

“In the WEA R&O, the Commission reasoned that Participating CMS Providers would need to engage in only one round of software testing for the new rules,” notes the draft item. “But, in light of new information provided by the CTIA Petition, we understand that requiring implementation of Spanish-language alerts six months earlier than longer Alert Messages would require duplicative testing and is therefore not the least burdensome approach to reaching our regulatory goals when weighed against the likely benefits. Accordingly, we find it to be in the public interest to extend the compliance timeframe for our Spanish-language alerting requirement from 24 to 30 months. We anticipate that requiring support for Spanish-language Alert Messages by May 1, 2019 will provide incentives and sufficient lead time for the many authorized WEA alert originators that are not currently able to initiate Alert Messages in Spanish to develop that capability.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily