In a statement released shortly following the false ballistic missile alarm that sparked panic in Hawaii on Sunday, FCC chair Ajit Pai placed blame for the incident on the state's lack of "reasonable safeguards"—while failing to mention that it was telecom giants, including his former employer Verizon, that played a specific and outsized role in preventing the implementation of several key safeguards.
"The false emergency alert sent yesterday in Hawaii was absolutely unacceptable," Pai said, announcing his agency has launched a full investigation. "Moving forward, we will focus on what steps need to be taken to prevent a similar incident from happening again. Federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to work together to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what's necessary to fix them."
As Vice's Jason Koebler reported on Saturday, one of the main barriers blocking some "reasonable safeguards" supported by public safety officials is the telecommunications industry, which has lobbied relentlessly against upgrading components of the nation's emergency alert systems for years.
The FCC in September 2016 "enacted new rules" that require "telecom companies to increase maximum message length from 90 to 360 characters, allow for clickable phone numbers and web links, and picture or videos, and improve the system's geotargeting," Koebler notes. "Crucially in this case, the new regulations require telecom companies to offer a testing system for local and state alert originators, but because of lobbying by Verizon and CTIA (a wireless telecom trade group), this specific regulation does not go into effect until March 2019, 30 months after the regulations were adopted."
In response to Pai's announcement that he is launching a probe of the Hawaii incident, commentators warned that—as with the internet—Pai's investigation could ultimately come to the conclusion that emergency testing systems should be handed over to telecom giants.
Perhaps you should ban alert neutrality. Make sure that only certain people can get alerts. Make others pay more to get the alerts. The most important alert is what you are doing to this country. You, Ajit Pai, are the biggest threat we face.
— Jim Samuel (@jwsamuel) January 13, 2018
Put Comcast in charge of text alerts. Throttle 'em down to 1 per month. 29 days of silence, then, "Pay your bill or everybody dies." https://t.co/7cXa3NsCyV
— Muscular Baby Jeb Lund (@Mobute) January 13, 2018
— Zach, Mr. Seize the Means of Production (@zachspiers) January 13, 2018
"In response I will be allowing all ISPs to charge users for access to emergency notifications" https://t.co/aJ9I74zLHP
— Eric CovfefeSchultz (@wwahammy) January 13, 2018