CTIA calls FCC's timeline for new wireless alerts rules 'technically unrealistic'

Source: Flickr user jeanbaptisteparis

The FCC Thursday voted to adopt rules to update its Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, which delivers messages to mobile users regarding severe weather, missing children and other critical situations.

The move follows a chorus of officials calling for major changes to the program in response to recent bombings in New York and New Jersey. But wireless carriers say the Commission may actually be moving too quickly.

The new rules increase the maximum length of WEA messages to 360 characters for LTE and future networks, up from 90, and they require network operators to support the inclusion of embedded phone numbers and URLs in all alerts to help users see a photo or call authorities with a single click. They also require carriers to support alerts in Spanish and to deliver the alerts “to more granular geographic areas.”

The rules also create a new class of alerts aimed at conveying “essential, recommended actions that can save lives or property,” the FCC said. Such messages could include the locations of emergency shelters or orders to boil water before using.

Earlier this week, Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., joined a growing number of politicians urging the Commission to make it possible for WEA messages to be longer and support photos and other multimedia. Such features could be extremely valuable for warning people of dangerous situations and helping them pass information along to authorities.

The FCC didn’t adopt rules addressing the use of photos in the messages but said it would seek comment on how to make such functionality possible.

Implementation of the updated rules is expected to take months, but carriers were quick to expressed concerns that the Commission is moving too quickly. CTIA praised the FCC’s effort, but said making changes hastily could negatively affect the transmission of messages in an emergency.

“While we support efforts to enhance this important voluntary system, we are concerned that the FCC’s technically unrealistic timeline adopted today may impede the delivery of emergency alerts,” said Scot Bergmann, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory affairs, in a prepared statement. “We are committed as an industry to support consumer safety with this voluntary program, and urge the FCC to work with all the stakeholders to ensure enhanced capabilities reach consumers in a manner that safeguards existing alert capabilities and wireless networks.”

For more:
- read the FCC’s press release (PDF)

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