Sure, it will piss some people off. Sure, there is a lot of money being spent to implement it. However, compared to most government initiatives, this is probably one which people will find helpful.
By the way, my extent of involvement is implementing this application on a handset. I didn't come up with the standards, but I think they're pretty reasonable. Only time will tell how the system is (ab)used.
A very easy solution is to have all phones sold in US preconfigured to be subscribed a specific cell broadcast topic. If you don't want the alerts just unsubscribe with the phone's standard interface.
Yep, that's essentially what this does. There are thirty topics reserved just for CMAS alerts. Phones will come pre-subscribed to some of those. The main difference here is that the "standard" CBS application isn't used to handle messages received on these topics. The reason is because there are some specific actions the phone must take when receiving these messages - playing a tone, vibra, etc.
But there's no real reason why an old phone which supports generic CBS couldn't receive the alerts, if it was subscribed to them. Part of the problem is that some phone makers limited the range of topic ids you can subscribe to using the UI, and the CMAS topics are outside of that range.
No need for a special chip (oooh, I forgot that someone has to pay for the personal planes of large companies and decision makers).
As I said in another post, this "special chip" stuff is completely bogus. I have no idea where the article got that from. On the phone-side of things, you only need CBS support in the cell modem (which should already be there) and a CMAS application (just software).
What is being added here is "special handling" for specific CBS messages. In other words, when you receive a CMAS message through CBS, your phone handles it differently than a "normal" CBS message by playing an alert tone, etc.
The system uses the standard cell broadcast system (CBS) as its backend, and most phones have supported that forever. It is basically an application which sits on top of CBS.
To answer your question, first you have to know about the types of messages that can be sent. The spec uses 30 total message identifiers, which fall into groups such as Presidential, Imminent-Extreme, Imminent-Severe, AMBER, Test, and Reserved. These 30 identifiers are consolidated into these groups before being presented to the user. This is a bit of a simplification, but you can probably get the general idea. The specification says that by default, phones will be subscribed to all alerts, but that they can opt-out of everything except presidential alerts. So maybe this is a small step towards Big Brother, but at least it is one way only!
I have no idea how often messages would be sent out using this new system, but the existing emergency alert system on TV is probably a good indicator. This new system does allow for federal, state, and local agencies to send alerts, so I could see the possibility for some abuse. Thankfully, you can turn off almost all the alerts, so this shouldn't be a problem in practice..
In any case, you can opt-out of every alert type except one - Presidential-level alerts. I suppose that if Obama wants you to hear about something, you don't have a choice
First: Is there any sort of method in-place wherein a message can be repeatedly broadcast, but only alert subscribers on the first successfully received message?
Yes, that's part of the CBS specification and and the emergency system uses this as well. The messages are broadcast for a set amount of time at a set repetition rate. They also contain serial numbers so that the handsets can distinguish between old and new messages. There is also a provision for sending updates to messages which have already been transmitted.
With what geographic granularity will the broadcasts be sent (or perhaps more properly, received)?
I'm not sure how granular it will be in practice, but it could technically get down to the individual cell level. Most likely, the carriers know which cells approximately serve which zip codes and would group based on that. The specs don't say exactly how this should be done, except that the "Cell Broadcast Center" should determine the affected cell sites for the geolocation (geo-code, polygon, circle) of the emergency message.
Third: Is there any pertinent documentation available that I can ogle?
There really isn't much documentation which is publicly available. Here are a few things, although they're short on real details:
Announcements: FEMA FCC CTIA
Standards (paywalled): ATIS 0700006 Joint ATIS/TIA J-STD-100
Sorry I don't have links to the actual specifications content. For some reason, you have to be a member company or pay for them.
I should have referred to the system by its proper name -- in the U.S., it's called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). There are similar systems being set up in other countries which closely follow the U.S. specifications, and those systems should be compatible with CMAS (at least that's the plan).
It's really not that complicated of a system. It uses Cell Broadcast Services (CBS) which are part of the existing 3GPP and 3GPP2 standards. Some of you may have seen CBS applications in your phones, but they're typically not used in the U.S. CBS is, as its name implies, a broadcast service.. so obviously it's one-way only. If your phone isn't "subscribed" to the particular message identifier (a kind of topic or category), or your phone isn't on when the message is broadcast, you'll miss it. The system has different classifications for messages, from nationwide alerts, to local alerts (like hurricanes), to AMBER alerts. There can't really be any way for operators to charge for broadcast messages, any more than they can charge for other broadcast resources like paging channels, so I think the only way your bill would be affected would be if they do some blanket 10 cent "government" fee for everyone... By the way, the reason they are using CBS is because it does not place a strain on the network, like sending millions of SMS messages at once would (that's important in a disaster situation when people might be overloading the network).
The special handling on the handset side is to take some specific actions when an emergency message is received.. it has to play a special tone and vibration, among other things. You can opt-out of pretty much all messages, so don't get too worried about being woken up in the middle of the night for AMBER alerts (well, unless you want to receive them). The system supports a monthly test message, but you wouldn't be opted-in to those by default.
The nature of the cell network allows operators to broadcast the messages to specific cells, so you are not going to get alerts for things happening elsewhere in the country. But the design also allows for national (presidential-level) distribution, so yes, in those cases, everybody would get the alert. The network-side of things is more interesting than the handset side, because of how different levels of the government need to be able to send alerts, and this is mostly what the article talks about (although it's short on details).
If you have other questions, reply and I can try to answer them.