BloostonLaw Telecom Update
Published by the Law Offices of Blooston, Mordkofsky, Dickens, Duffy & Prendergast, LLP
[Reproduced here with the firm's permission.]
CMAS Election Reminder - August 2011
PROVIDERS OF COMMERCIAL MOBILE SERVICES MUST
HAVE CMAS ELECTION NOTIFICATIONS ON FILE WITH FCC
*** Immediate Attention Required***
In the wake of hurricane Irene and serious regional flooding, we are sending this memo to remind our firm’s commercial mobile wireless clients of the possible need, if they have not done so already, to advise the FCC whether or not their company intends to participate in the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). While participation in the CMAS is voluntary, the filing of an election report is not. All Commercial Mobile Service (CMS) providers must file regardless of whether they intend to participate or not to participate. The notification must be filed electronically in the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). Wireless carriers that have elected to participate in CMAS must have necessary network hardware and software installed and ready for operation by April 7, 2012.
The filing requirement applies to all providers of commercial mobile service, including licensees in the following services: Cellular, Broadband PCS, Narrowband PCS, WCS, 700 MHz Guard Band and 700 MHz Commercial, AWS and Common Carrier Paging. While the requirement appears to apply only to licensees actually providing mobile service, prudence suggests that licensees intending to utilize their licensed spectrum to provide commercial mobile service should file the notification even if they have not yet commenced providing service, so that it is not overlooked once they commence service in the future.
As we notified our retainer clients at the time, the original window for filing the CMAS election was August/September 2008. Clients that did not submit a CMAS election filing in the original 2008 time frame should contact us at their earliest convenience so we can determine whether a notification is required and, if necessary, prepare a waiver request. If your company acquired its wireless license(s) after the initial 2008 CMAS reporting deadline, or if your company began offering commercial mobile service after this date, there is a strong possibility that your company will need to file an election notice. If your company originally elected not to participate in CMAS but you would like to change that election, we can file your amended notice at any time. If you are not sure whether or not your company filed a CMAS election in 2008, contact us and we should be able to confirm your company’s status.
The CMAS is a voluntary emergency alerting system that was established in 2008 by the FCC pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act. It provides federal, state, territorial, tribal and local government officials the ability to send 90-character geographically targeted text messages to the public regarding emergency alert and warning of imminent threats to life and property, Amber alerts, and Presidential emergency messages. The CMAS is a combined effort of the federal government and wireless standards organizations such as the Alliance of Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) to define a common standard for mobile alerts. Under the Commission’s rules, the CMAS consists of an end-to-end system by which:
- An Alert Aggregator/Gateway would receive, authenticate, validate and format federal, state, tribal and local alerts and then forward them to the appropriate CMS Provider Gateway.
- The CMS Provider Gateway and associated infrastructure would process the alerts and transmit them to subscriber handsets.
- Subscribers could receive up to three classes of text-based alerts, such as Presidential, Imminent Threat (e.g., tornado), and Amber Alerts.
- Subscribers would automatically receive these alerts if they have a CMAS-compatible handset (i.e., there would be no subscriber opt-in requirements).
- To ensure that people with disabilities have access to alerts, CMS providers must provide a unique audio attention signal and vibration cadence on CMAS-compatible handsets.
- CMS providers generally must transmit alerts to areas no larger than the targeted county,
- but they may transmit to areas smaller than the county if they choose to do so.
- Subscribers receiving services pursuant to a roaming agreement will receive alert messages if: (1) the operator of the roamed upon network is a participating CMS provider; and (2) the subscriber's mobile device is configured for and technically capable of receiving alert messages from the roamed-upon network.
- CMAS messages will not preempt calls in progress.
In December of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the FCC announced the adoption of design specifications for the development of a CMAS gateway interface. This announcement initiated a 28-month period for participating CMS providers to develop, test and deploy the system and deliver mobile alerts to the public. As if there were not enough acronyms floating around already, the entire end-to-end public safety notification system (of which CMAS is an integral part) is being marketed to the public by FEMA and the FCC as the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN).
Participating wireless carriers must begin deployment of CMAS/PLAN by April 7, 2012. Some carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — will reportedly offer the service in certain areas ahead of this deadline.
Answers to Common Questions
How Does PLAN Work?
Authorized national, state or local government officials send alerts regarding public safety emergencies, such as a tornado or a terrorist threat to PLAN. PLAN authenticates the alert, verifies that the sender is authorized and sends it to participating wireless carriers. Participating wireless carriers push the alerts from cell towers to mobile devices in the affected area. The alerts appear like text messages on mobile devices. Participating wireless service providers must be able to target alerts to individual counties, and ensure that alerts reach customers roaming outside the provider’s service area.
Who Will Receive PLAN Alerts?
Alerts are geographically targeted, so a customer living in downtown New York would not receive a threat if they happen to be in Chicago when the alert is sent. Similarly, someone visiting downtown New York from Chicago on that same day would receive the alert. This requires a PLAN enabled mobile device and participation by the wireless provider in PLAN.
How Much Will Consumers Pay to Receive PLAN Alerts?
Alerts are free. Customers do not pay to receive PLAN alerts.
Do Consumers Have to Sign Up to Receive Alerts?
Customers of participating carriers are automatically signed up. PLAN allows government officials to send emergency alerts to all subscribers with PLAN-capable devices if their wireless carrier participates in the program. Consumers do not need to sign up for this service.
What Alerts Will PLAN Deliver?
Alerts from PLAN cover only critical emergency alerts. Consumers will receive only three types of alerts:
- Alerts issued by the President
- Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
- Amber Alerts
Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but Presidential alerts.
What Will Consumers Experience When They Receive a PLAN Alert?
PLAN uses a unique signal and vibration, and appears much like a text message. A PLAN alert will be accompanied by a unique attention signal and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities. The PLAN alert will appear as a popup text on the handset screen much like a text message.
Will Consumers Be Able to Receive PLAN Alerts on a Prepaid Phone?
Yes. Consumers with prepaid phones can receive PLAN alerts as long as their provider has decided to participate in PLAN and the customer has a PLAN-enabled device. Such consumers will receive PLAN alerts just as customers with postpaid, monthly service will.
Will PLAN track my location?
No. PLAN is not designed to – and does not – track the location of anyone receiving a PLAN alert.
Are PLAN Alerts Text Messages?
No. PLAN messages are not text messages. Alerts will not have to be opened like SMS text messages, but will “pop up” on the device’s screen. PLAN alerts are transmitted using a new technology that is separate and different from voice calls and SMS text messages. This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services.
Will Consumers Need a New Phone or a Smart Phone to Receive Alerts?
Some phones may require only software upgrades to receive alerts, while in other cases a subscriber may need to purchase a new PLAN-capable device. Consumers will need to check with their wireless carrier regarding the availability of PLAN-capable handsets.
Will PLAN Be Available Everywhere?
Participation in PLAN by wireless carriers is voluntary and there should be no negative fallout if a carrier decides for whatever reason not to participate. Some carriers will offer PLAN over all or parts of their service areas or over all or only some of their wireless devices. Ultimately, we expect that PLAN will be available in most of the country. Consumers will need to check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.
Can Consumers Block PLAN Alerts?
Partially. Participating wireless carriers may offer subscribers with PLAN-capable handsets the ability to block alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life and/or AMBER Alerts; however, consumers cannot block emergency alerts issued by the President.
How Will Subscribers Know If Their Carrier Offers PLAN?
The FCC requires all wireless carriers that do not participate in PLAN to notify customers once CMAS begins operations in your area, expected to be in April 2012. Consumers will need to check with their wireless carriers to determine the extent to which they are offering PLAN.
Should My Company Elect to Participate?
While participation in the CMAS is entirely voluntary, the decision to participate triggers certain obligations, as discussed below. We note that the initial election is not binding, i.e., a service provider may elect to opt in and decide later to opt out, and vice versa, and no regulatory penalty or forfeiture will accrue if the election is later changed, one way or the other. However, following are the factors that should be considered before making a decision as to the initial election.
Clearly, there are benefits to participating in the CMAS, both humanitarian and commercial. The value to your subscribers of being able to receive critical emergency alerts on their mobile devices is unquestionable. And, not participating in the CMAS when other service providers in the area have elected to do so may put your company at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, once the CMAS begins operations in your area, you must notify your subscribers in a conspicuous manner at the point of sale if you decide not to participate (no notification to subscribers is required if you have decided to participate). While participation requires commitment and some costs, including equipment and periodic testing, many carriers may conclude that the benefits outweigh the obligations.
However, insofar as the initial election is concerned, there is some down side to opting in and later deciding to opt out, for whatever the reason. If you elect to participate in the CMAS and later withdraw your election, while there is no regulatory penalty in doing so, you must notify all affected subscribers and the FCC at least 60 days prior to the withdrawal of the election. But, more compelling, if you withdraw your initial election to participate in the CMAS, you must notify each affected subscriber individually in clear and conspicuous language of the subscriber’s right to terminate service without an early termination fee or a penalty of any kind. For this reason alone, we recommended opting out in the initial election, thereby giving you the full opportunity to examine the costs and other obligations associated with participation before making a final decision.
As indicated above, the initial election is not binding and may later be changed without regulatory penalty or forfeiture. So, if you elected to state your intention not to participate in the initial filing, you may now decide to participate once the CMAS is implemented in your area of operations.
The CMAS notification must be filed electronically with the FCC. If you did not make the initial filing in 2008 and would now like us to file your notification and supply you with the FCC’s confirmation of the filing, please contact Hal Mordkofsky or Cary Mitchell as soon as possible. If you have already made the initial filing (and most of our clients have done so), there is no need to make a further filing unless you elected to opt out in the initial filing (as most of our clients did) and now wish to change that election.
Please let us know if you wish to discuss this further.