On August 7, 2008, the FCC released new rules (FCC 08-148), implementing the Warning Alert and Response Network ("WARN") Act, under which the Commercial Mobile Alert System ("CMAS") will be implemented by cellular telephone, PCS, and other Commercial Mobile Radio Service providers. The CMAS will allow local, regional, and national emergency alert messages to be delivered to cellphone and other mobile radio terminals.
Carriers may opt in or out of the CMAS. Those who decline to partipate at all or who choose to participate in only part of their service area must give clear and conspicuous notice to all new customers at the point of sale, including where sales are made by third-party agencies. A carrier must notify existing customers of an election not to participate by amending the terms and conditions of their service contracts, giving notice in the same way they notify subscribers of other contract changes. Prepaid service providers are included in the notice requirement; but because they often do not know the identity of their customers, they may give notice through text messaging and other electronic means if they choose not to use paper mail. Carriers who participate fully may give notice or not, as they choose. Carriers that elect to participate but later change their mind must notify their subscribers of their changed plans 60 days before curtailing or discontinuing service
and must allow subscribers to terminate service without any termination fee. All subscribers must also be permitted to opt out of receiving emergency alerts other than Presidential messages, which must go to all subscribers. Carriers that initially decide not to participate but later change their mind must give their customers 30 days notice. In no case will customers be required to return a written acknowledgement that they received a carrier’s notice.
By September 8, 2008, all commercial mobile service providers must file an electronic notice in PS Docket No. 08-146 of their decision as to whether to particate or not participate in the warning system. A public notice, DA 08-1866, describes how to make the filing. Carriers need not describe how they will implement CMAS, as some of that information is deemed proprietary.
Actual implementation will occur after the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") announces the details of its gateway interface for distribution of emergency messages. If FEMA has not made its announcement by December 31, 2008, the FCC will consider looking for another gateway operator. FEMA’s announcement will trigger a 10-month test and development period, followed by an 18-month implementation period, after which the CMAS must be up and running.