FCC Approves Emergency Text Message Program For Cell Phones

According to the plan, wireless carriers participating in the CMAS plan will transmit text-based alerts to their subscribers. In addition, as technology evolves, the CMAS could include audio and video services alerts.

However, when it released the news, statements made by the FCC also shed insight about squabbling between federal agencies and who will take ownership of the program.

"It would have been better, of course, if we had a federal entity in place now to take on the role of alert aggregator and gateway. We are hopeful that we have initiated the dialogue that will allow an appropriate Federal entity to assume that central role in an expeditious manner," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps expressed his disappointment more explicitly.

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"So far, no federal agency has stepped up to fulfill the unified aggregator/gateway role that virtually all stakeholders agree is necessary for our mobile alert system to work properly," said Copps in a statement. "Indeed, if no agency assumes this role, the rules we enact today will never become effective and Americans will never receive the protection of emergency alerts delivered to their mobile phones."

Copps said that the "unwillingness" of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to helm the plan was, "especially disheartening because FEMA representatives were intimately involved in developing the idea of a unified Federal gateway/aggregator. So now we are left without a firm candidate for a position that is essential to getting this system off the ground."

"I certainly wish it had not come to this," he said. "Indeed, I would not be shy about suggesting that the FCC take on this function itself -- except that our agency (unlike FEMA, the Department of Justice, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) does not currently have experience with originating emergency alerts."

Under the plan, wireless users will receive three kinds of messages to their cell phones and other mobile devices from participating wireless carriers. A presidential alert relates to - national emergency -related alerts that would preempt any other pending alerts. The second alert, imminent threat alerts, would provide information about emergencies that pose immediate threats. The third alert is the child abduction emergency/AMBER Alerts, relating to missing or endangered children.

Subscribers to wireless services with roaming agreements will receive timely alerts provided the subscriber's mobile device is configured for, and technically capable of, receiving such emergency alerts from their networks.

The CMAS plan was created to comply with the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act (WARN Act), and adopts technical requirements based on the recommendations of the Commercial Mobile Service Alert Advisory Committee (CMSAAC).

Going forward, participating wireless carriers will be required to comply with the rules within 10 months from the date of the announcement that a federal agency has been designated to collect and transmit the alerts to the wireless carriers.