Rural Telcos Get a Break on WEA-Embedded URLs

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The FCC upheld its original timeline for all carriers to support basic, geo-targeting in Wireless Emergency Alerts yesterday. But it did give more time to small, regional wireless carriers to support clickable, embedded references (like URLs) in the alerts and held the five major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular —  to the original timeline.

The FCC in September 2016, passed various technology updates to WEA, including that carriers geo-target alerts to “best approximate” the target area and provide “clickable” embedded references in the alerts by November 1 of this year, which was Wednesday. Concerned about network congestion, wireless association CTIA asked the agency to defer mandating embedded elements in a WEA message until after feasibility testing and standards efforts are completed and “clickable” links are defined.

The Competitive Carriers Association also asked for more time, telling the FCC it would be “unreasonably burdensome and costly” for many of its members to meet the deadlines because several rural telcos are still transitioning from 2G to 3G networks. The FCC agreed and granted an extra 18 months for smaller, regional operators — specifically, all carriers other than the largest five — to comply. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular previously indicated they intended to support embedded references on smartphones capable of processing them by November 1.  

But on geo-targeting, the agency held firm and rejected arguments from both wireless associations. It said the standard is flexible and takes into consideration the specific capabilities of each carrier taking part in the voluntary WEA program.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported the actions but said “recent events demonstrate the need to move” faster. She pointed out that Senators Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein said California emergency officials couldn’t use WEA during the recent wildfires “because of significant technical deficiencies,” including the lack of geo-targeting.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai anticipates moving forward soon to improve WEA’s capabilities for geo-targeting alerts more precisely. “I intend to provide my colleagues with a proposal for action in the near future,” he said.

November 3, 2017

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