FCC Releases FNPRM on WEA Accessibility, Effectiveness, and Reporting

On April 21, 2023, the FCC released the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) seeking comment on proposals to improve the effectiveness of Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”), specify performance metrics, and increase transparency regarding WEA use and performance.  The item was adopted at the April Open Meeting.

Specifically, the FNPRM seeks comment on the following proposals:

  • Making WEA More Accessible: the FNPRM proposes to require that Participating CMS Providers ensure that the WEA-cable mobile devices they sell have the capacity to translate English language alert messages into the subscribers’ alert language preferences utilizing machine translation technologies and support multimedia content.
    • Enhancing WEA’s Language Support: the FNPRM seeks comment on the feasibility of this proposal, the accuracy of machine translation technologies, the languages that should be supported, and whether existing mobile devices in the marketplace have the capacity to support machine translation software.
      • Providers would be required to support presentation of alerts in the 13 most commonly spoken languages in the US in addition to English: Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Korean, Russian, Haitian Creole, German, Hindi, Portuguese, and Italian.
      • Alternatively, the FNPRM seeks comment on utilizing template-based alerts, similar to those utilized in New York City, which presents an English-language message with links to 13 pre-scripted translations, written by people fluent in the language.
      • The FNPRM also seeks comment on how WEA may be improved to provide support for American Sign Language and how it can be made text-to-speech compatible.
      • Compliance: Compliance would be required 30 months after publication of final rules in the Federal Register.
    • Improving WEA’s Effectiveness with Multimedia Content: the FNPRM proposes to require support for certain multimedia content in WEA messages and to sunset aspects of current WEA message requirements to free up bandwidth to support this capacity.
      • Participating CMS Providers would be required to support:
        • The sending of thumbnail-sized images in WEA messages over the air, particularly for AMBER Alerts.
        • The presentation of “location-aware maps” in WEA messages such that the alert message “text is immediately displayed and an additional option to display a WEA map is provided.” The FNPRM concludes there would be no need to transmit additional information over the air to support this functionality.
      • The FNPRM seeks comment on sunsetting the requirement to transmit a 90-character maximum version of alerts in addition to the 360-character-maximum version of alerts to free up bandwidth for photos.
      • The FNPRM seeks comment on these proposals, including the feasibility, whether there are other alerts for which photos may be useful, whether the 90-character alerts are still necessary, and whether it is possible to support infographics.
      • The FNPRM seeks to refresh the record on whether Participating CMS Providers could enable WEA messages to include a symbol set designed for emergency communications.
      • Compliance: Compliance would be required 36 months after publication of final rules in the Federal Register.
  • Integrating WEA More Seamlessly into People’s Lives: the FNPRM proposes to allow alerting authorities more flexibility in how WEA messages are presented to accommodate different emergencies, prevent unnecessary consumer opt-out, and facilitate more effective public awareness testing.
    • Granting Alerting Authorities Greater WEA Flexibility: the FNPRM proposes to require that Participating CMS Providers be able to send WEA messages, at the alerting authority’s option, without triggering the audio attention signal and vibration cadence.  The FNPRM seeks comment on this proposal, the costs and benefits, the standards and software that would need to be modified to enable this capability, and other technical issues that may arise.
      • Compliance: Compliance would be required 30 months after publication of final rules in the Federal Register.
    • Preventing Unnecessary Consumer OptOut: the FNPRM proposes to require that Participating CMS Providers provide their subscribers with the option to durably turn off WEA’s audio attention signal and vibration cadence for all alerts.  The FNPRM seeks comment on this proposal, whether providers should be required to reset WEA-capable mobile devices to their default opt-in status in implementing the proposal, and whether that is technically feasible.
      • Compliance: Compliance would be required 30 months after publication of final rules in the Federal Register.
    • Facilitating More Effective WEA Public Awareness: the FNPRM proposes to authorize Participating CMS Providers to support up to two end-to-end WEA tests (in which consumers receive test messages by default) per alerting authority each year, provided that the alerting authority: 1) conducts outreach and notifies the public in advance of the planned WEA test and that no emergency is, in fact, occurring; 2) includes in its test message that the alert is only a test; 3) coordinates the test among Participating CMS Providers, state and local emergency authorities, relevant State Emergency Communications Committees (SECCs), and first responder organizations; and 4) provides notification to the public in widely accessible formats that the test is only a test.  The FNPRM seeks comment on this proposal, whether it will increase alerting authorities’ understanding of WEA, whether records should be maintained on such tests, and the costs and benefits of the proposal.
      • Compliance: Participating CMS Providers would be authorized to support up to two annual end-to-end WEA tests per alerting authority 30 days after the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issues a Public Notice announcing OMB approval of any new information collection requirements associated with this rule change.
  • Establishing a WEA Database to Promote Transparency about WEA Availability and Benchmark WEA Performance:  the FNPRM proposes to modernize the WEA election process and facilitate access to WEA availability and performance information through a Commission-hosted WEA Database.
    • Reporting Information About WEA Availability: the FNPRM proposes to require all CMS Providers, irrespective of whether they elect to transmit WEA messages, to report their level of WEA participation in a WEA database.  The database will:
      • Identify which providers offer WEA – providers will be required to identify whether they elect to participate in WEA in whole or in part, or whether they elect not to participate.  Those that participate in part or do not participate will be required to provide an explanation.
      • Identify where WEA is offered – providers will be required to disclose the extent to which they offer WEA in the entirety of their geographic service area.  Providers will be required to submit this data using the voice geographical information system coverage areas, which are used in the Broadband Data Collection.
      • Identify which Devices Support WEA – Providers will be required to report all mobile devices that the provider currently offers for sale that are WEA-capable.  The FNPRM proposes to update the term “WEA-Capable Device” to mean “a mobile device that is compliant with the Part 10, Subpart E equipment requirements,” and is capable of supporting “the alert message requirements in Part 10, Subpart D (e.g., support for the alert message classifications, national alert prioritization, WEA message elements, the 360-maximum character limit, geo-targeting, roaming, and support for both English- and Spanish-language alerts).”
      • Provide Current Information – Providers will be required to update the WEA Database within 30 days of a change in their WEA participation.
    • Improving WEA’s Performance to Make it a More Effective Life-Saving Tool: the FNPRM proposes to establish WEA performance minimums that Participating CMS Providers must satisfy for every WEA message they send.
      • Reliability – the FNPRM seeks comment on additional reliability metrics that can be used, above the Commission’s existing rule that WEA messages be delivered to 100 percent of the target area.
      • Accuracy – the FNPRM seeks comment on whether exceptions to the Commission’s existing accuracy requirements are necessary and what other reasons WEA-capable devices may be falling short of geo-targeting requirements.
      • Speed – the FNPRM proposes to require providers to satisfy minimum speed requirements to ensure WEA messages are displayed as swiftly as possible during emergencies, such as displaying alerts within 5 minutes.  The FNPRM seeks comment on those metrics.
      • Other WEA Performance Improvements – the FNPRM seeks comment on other measures, such as requiring alerts be sent at one-minute intervals throughout the alert’s active period, use of geofencing, and other ways to ensure people moving in and out of alert areas are notified of ongoing events.
    • Reporting Information about WEA’s Performance: the FNPRM proposes to require Participating CMS Providers to submit data to the Commission regarding WEA reliability, accuracy, and speed using the WEA Database.  The FNPRM seeks comment on the data sets that should be submitted and the source of data each set should be derived from, whether providers face technical challenges in reporting or collecting this information, the feasibility of collecting this information, and privacy concerns with collecting this information from mobile devices.
    • Establishing a WEA Database: the FNPRM seeks comment on:
      • Data Submission – the most cost-effective mechanism to submit WEA elections and performance information to the WEA database while minimizing burdens on providers
      • Promoting stakeholder understanding – how the WEA database can meet consumer and alerting authorities’ need for information about WEA performance
      • Public Access – the contents of the WEA Database would be available to the general public, and the Commission seeks comment on confidentiality concerns
    • Compliance: Compliance will be required 30 months after the publication of final rules in the Federal Register or within 30 days of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s publication of a public notice announcing that the WEA Database is ready to accept filings, whichever is later, for the proposed rules requiring Participating CMS Providers to satisfy WEA performance minimums and submit reports measuring WEA’s performance.
      • CMS Providers would be required to refresh their elections to participate in WEA using the WEA Database within 30 days of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s publication of a public notice announcing (1) OMB approval of any new information collection requirements and (2) that the WEA Database is ready to accept filings.
  • Promoting Digital Equity – the FNPRM seeks comment on how it can advance digital equity for all through its proposals
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis – the FNPRM concludes Participating CMS Providers would incur a $39.9 million aggregate one-time cost to update the WEA standards and software necessary to comply with the proposed rules, which would be split between the 79 WEA participants.   The FNPRM also concludes that the aggregate cost of WEA availability reporting would be approximately $139,000 annually and performance reporting would be approximately $283,500 annually.

Comments will be due 30 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

Reply comments will be due 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

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