FCC Releases Adopted WEA Accessibility Report and Order

On October 20, 2023, the FCC released the Third Report and Order (“Order”) adopting rules to improve the Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”) systems’ accessibility and performance.  The item was adopted at the October Open Meeting. The FCC adopted four new rules related to improving WEA accessibility and performance:

  • Participating CMS Providers Must Support Multilingual WEAs Through Templates:  The FCC requires Participating CMS Providers to support multilingual WEA through the use of alert messages translated into the thirteen most commonly spoken languages in the United States (“templates”).  These languages include: Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Korean, Russian, Haitian Creole, German, Hindi, Portuguese, and Italian.  The templates would be pre-installed and stored on the mobile device itself.  When an alerting authority chooses to send a multilingual Alert Message, the WEA-capable mobile device must be able to extract and display the relevant template in the subscriber’s default language, if available.  If the default language for a WEA-capable mobile device is set to a language that is not among those supported by templates, the WEA-capable device must present the English-language version of the Alert Message.
    1. American Sign Language (“ASL”) Templates:  The FCC also requires Participating CMS Providers’ WEA-capable mobile devices to support templates in ASL.  Since ASL is not a language to which a mobile device can set, Participating CMS Providers’ WEA-capable mobile devices must provide subscribers with the ability to opt-in to receive ASL alerts.  This choice to receive Alert Message templates in ASL should override the preferred language setting and the Alert Message should be extracted in ASL.  The ASL alerts would function like other template-based Alert Messages in all other respects.
    2. Implementation Parameters:   The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is directed to develop the specific implementation parameters for template-based multilingual alerting.  The Bureau is directed to propose and seek comment on a set of messages for support via template as they would be written in all support languages, and whether there are additional languages that should be supported through templates.  To the extent that the Bureau finds it would be minimally burdensome to implement, the Bureau is authorized to designate additional languages, beyond English, ASL, and the 13 languages identified above, that Providers would be required to support through templates.
    3. Compliance:  After opportunity for comment on the above, the Bureau will release an Order establishing the specific implementation parameters for template-based multilingual alerting, including identification of the final set of emergency messages for multilingual WEA support, as well as their accompanying pre-scripted templates.  Participating CMS Providers are required to comply with the requirement to support template-based alerts for English, ASL, and the 13 identified within 30 months after the Bureau publishes its Order in the Federal Register.  For any additional languages the Bureau identifies should be supported, the Bureau is directed to identify the corresponding compliance timeframe.
  • WEA-Capable Devices Must Support Presentation of Location-Aware Maps:  The FCC requires WEA-capable mobile devices to support the presentation of Alert Messages that link the recipient to a native mapping application on their mobile device that will depict the recipient’s geographic position relative to the emergency incident.  The map must include the following features: the overall geographic area, the contour of the area subject to the emergency alert within that geographic area, and the alert recipient’s location relative to these geographic areas.  This functionality is only required where the alert message’s target area is specified by a circle or polygon, and where the device has enabled location services and has granted location permissions to its native mapping application.
    1. Compliance:  Participating CMS Providers must comply with the location-aware mapping requirement 36 months from the rule’s publication in the Federal Register.
  • Participating CMS Providers Must Support WEA Performance and Public Awareness Testing:  The FCC requires Participating CMS Providers to support up to two end-to-end WEA tests, per county, per year, that consumers receive by default.  In advance to conducting such tests, alerting authorities must: (1) conduct outreach and notify the public in advance of a planned WEA test, and confirm that no emergency is, in fact, occurring; (2) include in its test message that the alert is “only a test”; (3) coordinate the test among Participating CMS Providers that serve the geographic area targeted by the test, state and local emergency authorities, relevant State emergency communications Committees (“SECCs”), and first responder organizations; and (4) provide notification to the public in widely accessible formats that the test is only a test and is not a warning about an actual emergency.
    1. Compliance: Participating CMS Providers must comply with the testing requirement within 30 days of the Federal Register’s publication of notice that OMB has completed its review of the information collection requirements.
  • Participating CMS Providers Must Refresh their WEA Elections and Report on WEA Availability:  The FCC requires all Participating CMS Providers to refresh their WEA election status by filing this information in an FCC hosted electronic database (“WEA Database”), as opposed to the docket that is currently used.   The WEA Database will be an interactive portal where CMS Providers submit information about the availability of WEA on their networks (i.e. whether they participate in WEA “in whole,” “in part,” or elect not to participate).
    1. Contents of the Election Notice: The WEA election attestation disclosures must include (1) the name and WEA participation of the CMS Provider; (2) the name and WEA participation status of any subsidiary companies on behalf of the provider; and (3) any “doing business as” names under which the CMS Provider or its subsidiaries offer wireless service to the public.  Providers are not required to report on their roaming partners or resellers, unless they are wholly-owned or controlled by the CMS Provider.
    2. Geographic Areas where the Provider Offers WEA: Participating CMS Providers must also disclosure the geographic area in which they offer WEA.  Providers that offer WEA in an area that is geographically coextensive with their wireless voice coverage may satisfy this requirement by attesting to that fact, and the FCC will utilize the Provider’s submitted Broadband Data Collection maps for the WEA database.  Providers that offer WEA in an area that is not co-extensive with their wireless voice coverage area must submit a geospatial data file describing their WEA coverage area.
    3. WEA-Capable Mobile Devices: Participating CMS Providers are required to submit a list of all mobile devices they offer at the point of sale, indicating for each such device whether it is WEA-cable, to the WEA database.
    4. Implementation:  The FCC directs the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics to implement this data collection.  The Bureau is directed to publish information about how Providers will be able to submit their data and announce whether the WEA Database is ready to accept filings.
    5. Compliance: All CMS Providers, irrespective of whether they have already submitted a WEA election attestation in the WEA election docket, are required to refresh their elections to participate in WEA using the WEA Database within 90 days of the Bureau’s publication of a Public Notice announcing (1) OMB approval of any new information collection requirements or (2) that the WEA Database is ready to accept filings, whichever is later.  Providers are required to update their WEA election biannually, similar to the Broadband Data Collection filing requirements.

The FCC concludes that the cost to industry to implement these proposals will be a one-time cost of $42.4 million to update the WEA standards and software and an annually recurring cost of $422,500 for recordkeeping and reporting.  Nevertheless, the FCC concludes that the benefits of increasing WEA accessibility, awareness, trust, and confidence, and the related improved public safety outcomes outweigh the anticipated costs.

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