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FCC Takes Up WEA Improvements

Also plans vote on streamlined processes for foreign ownership applications

The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote this month on a proposal to enhance Wireless Emergency Alerts.

Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote on his blog that the issue comes up as the FCC recognizes National Preparedness Month.

WEA, he noted, is the four-year-old system that delivers warnings to cell phones during tornados, hurricanes and other emergencies. “The updated rules would enable the public to receive additional, vital information in wireless alerts, better target the alerts to affected communities, and help state and local authorities more effectively use the service,” Wheeler wrote. “For example, our rules will enable WEA AMBER alert originators to include more information, including active links for pictures and phone numbers, to help locate missing children.” (WEA formerly was known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS.)

The FCC proposed enhancements to WEA late last year. Among the changes mentioned then were quadrupling the max length of WEA messages to 360 characters; enabling alerts to contain embedded phone numbers and URLs; creating a new class of alerts called “Emergency Government Information” as a means of sending public safety advisories such as “boil water” messages or where to shelter in weather emergencies; requiring participating wireless providers to deliver alerts to more specific geographic areas; and making it easier for state and local authorities to test WEA service and train personnel.

Also on the tentative agenda for the Sept. 29 meeting is an item to extend to broadcast licensees similar streamlined rules and procedures that common carrier wireless licensees use when seeking approval of foreign ownership. “These process reforms will provide the broadcast sector with greater transparency and more predictability, while reducing regulatory burdens and costs for all sectors,” Wheeler wrote.

“To be clear, these rules would not relax the foreign ownership thresholds, and the commission will continue to conduct case-by-case public interest reviews of petitions.” He said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly deserves special recognition for leadership in highlighting the issue.


Foreign Ownership Rules Under Scrutiny (Jan. 2016)

FCC Proposals Would Streamline Foreign Ownership Rules (Oct. 2015)