Communications panel studies lessons of Katrina

Deadline for getting recommendations to the FCC is June 15

An independent panel to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina on communications networks, convened by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), met for the first time Monday.

By June 15, the Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks will issue recommendations to the FCC on improving disaster preparedness, network reliability and communications among first responders. Public safety agencies from affected areas in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are represented on the panel, along with carriers, satellite providers, equipment vendors, broadcasters, a cable provider and others, according to an FCC advisory.

The hurricane, which devastated much of New Orleans and a broad swath of the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, caused widespread damage to multiple communications networks, which hindered relief efforts. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin estimated last September that 3 million people lost phone service and more than 1,000 wireless towers were knocked down in the storm and subsequent flooding, while some carriers predicted hundreds of millions in costs and months of restoration work.

The panel that met Monday in Washington, D.C., includes William Smith, chief technology officer of BellSouth Corp., the regional incumbent carrier, as well as officials from Sprint Nextel Corp., Cingular Wireless LLC, cable operator Cox Communications Inc. and Motorola Inc., a major provider of public-safety radios and cell phones. Also represented is Part-15.org, a group that includes many wireless Internet service providers that use unlicensed radio spectrum. Late last year, New Orleans began rolling out a free municipal Wi-Fi mesh network, in part to establish communications sooner than wired networks could be fully restored.

At the opening meeting Monday, which was open to the public, the group was set to discuss its committee structure and a tentative timeline for producing its recommendations.

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