Comments submitted late last week on the FCC’s plan to implement rules that would institute multimedia wireless emergency alert (WEA) messaging and more precise WEA geo-targeting portray a dividing line between supporters of the proposed rules in the public safety sector and wireless carriers, which contend that a multimedia mandate would be technically infeasible and could threaten industry participation in the voluntary WEA system.  In a Report and Order (R&O) adopted in September, the FCC enacted rules which require wireless carriers to support embedded URLs and phone numbers in WEA messages.  As part of the R&O, the FCC solicited stakeholder input on further proposed rule changes that would mandate, among other things, (1) multimedia messaging, (2) preservation of alerts on WEA-capable wireless devices until the alert expires, and (3) delivery of earthquake-related alerts within three seconds.  The further notice also seeks comment on a compliance timeframe of 42 months from rule publication or 24 months from the completion of standards (whichever is soonest) and on proposals to require message delivery in additional languages beyond English and Spanish.    

Arguing that the proposed rules are “burdensome” and have not been “demonstrated to provide meaningful improvements to the functioning of the WEA,” wireless association CTIA warned:  “should the Commission stray from the highly effective path it has employed for WEA and adopt infeasible and unnecessary requirements for commercial mobile service providers to comply with as part of their participation, CMS participants may be forced to reconsider their support for the voluntary WEA system.”  AT&T reminded the FCC that the purpose of WEA “is to alert the public to any imminent threat that presents a significant risk of injury to the public,” as it observed that the proposals of the further notice “seem designed to change WEA from a ‘bell ringer’ service to a full media source.”  As AT&T recommended against the FCC’s approach “given the limitations of cell broadcast technology,” the company emphasized that implementation of the multimedia mandate “requires investment in an as yet uncreated, undeployed technology which would . . . have no commercial application for some time to come.”  Charging that the proposed rules “deviate from the Commission’s technology-neutral approach to wireless emergency alerts by expanding the attestation requirements on carriers,” Verizon maintained that “existing requirements already inform consumers whether a carrier’s services and devices support alert capabilities, which is what Congress intended and what consumers want.”   

Public safety entities, meanwhile, were more receptive of the FCC’s proposals.  As the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International endorsed plans “to improve geo-targeting by requiring participating wireless carriers to match the target area provided by an alert originator,” the New York City Emergency Management Department told the agency that it “strongly supports message preservation on mobile devices” as well as proposals “to allow multimedia content, including thumbnail size images, in WEA messages on 4G LTE and future networks.”  Pointing to recent, high-profile public emergencies in Orlando, Florida and other localities that spotlight the need “for improved geo-targeting of alerts,” AC&C LLC—a developer of map-based geo-coded telephone public warning systems—proclaimed that,” by working together . . . 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.”