Senators Question Pai on Geotargeting in Wireless Emergency Alerts
Thursday, October 19, 2017 | Comments

Following the deadliest wildfires in California’s history this month, U.S Sens. Kamala D. Harris and Dianne Feinstein raised concerns with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai about the limitations of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.

“Recent news reports have indicated that emergency services in Northern California were not able to transmit lifesaving WEA messages because of significant technical deficiencies in the WEA system,” the senators wrote in a letter. “Specifically, because the WEA system does not enable precise geotargeting — a feature that has been standard in mobile applications for years — emergency services cannot send an evacuation message without reaching a large number of unaffected residents. These emergency services are caught in a bind between notifying individuals in imminent danger and risking mass panic. As a result, these services are compelled to rely on emergency messaging systems with far less reach and far less capacity.”

The senators said that in September 2016, the FCC proposed new rules that would require wireless carriers to enable precise geotargeting of WEA warnings.

“We are heartened that you and your colleagues voted in favor of that proposal,” the letter said. “You even wrote separately in a concurring opinion, emphasizing the importance of geotargeted alerts. We are disappointed, though, that under your leadership the FCC has not executed on its proposal with a final rule. We are also concerned that the FCC has granted a temporary waiver of the existing, imprecise geotargeting requirements for certain carriers.”

The letter poses four questions to Pai and asks for a response by Oct. 24. The full letter is here.

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