The President Is Texting U Fcc Approves Emergency Mobile Device Text Alerts

Text messaging on mobile devices has grown from banter between teenagers to a new emergency notification system for cell phones, as approved Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC said the new rules "support the ability of the nation's wireless carriers to transmit timely and accurate alerts, warnings and critical information to the cell phones and other mobile devices of consumers during disasters or other emergencies." The policy meets the requirements of the federal Warning, Alert and Response Network Act, whose acronym is, appropriately, WARN.

Levels of Emergency Messages

When fully operational, the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS, will be able to deliver alerts to participating wireless services. Those carriers will forward text-based alerts to their subscribers, and the FCC said that, as technology evolves for greater bandwidth, CMAS may some day include audio and video emergency messages as well.

To accommodate wireless subscribers with disabilities, the rules require that participating carriers transmit messages with "vibration cadence" and audio attention signals.

There are three types of messages that will be delivered. The top level is Presidential Alerts, related to national emergencies. The second level is Imminent Threat Alerts, with information on emergencies that could pose imminent risks. The third is an extension of the Child Abduction Emergency or AMBER alerts, an existing system that transmits alerts about children missing or endangered because of an abduction or runaway situation.

Subscribers with roaming agreements will need to have a mobile device configured to receive alerts in the network to which they've moved.

'Not a New Set of Technologies'

Peter Jarich, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that, "unless the costs of implementing this are prohibitive," he expects a number of carriers to participate if its availability is widely publicized. Otherwise, he noted, "it could look bad if [they] didn't."

Although the costs of carrier participation are not evident, Jarich noted that "we're talking about text messaging, not a new set of technologies or a new network."

But the FCC did have a setback recently in trying to establish a new network for emergency communication. The recently completed auction of frequencies in the 700-MHz spectrum included the upper 700-MHz D block. But the FCC had to de-link it from the rest of the auction, saying the bids had not met the $1.3 billion minimum price.

The D block was established for a public/private partnership that would guarantee public-safety agencies bandwidth access in emergencies. The FCC has said it will need to "consider its options for how to license this spectrum."

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