FCC chief calls for disaster communications group, but VoIP vendors shut out of monthly meeting

The FCC chairman is advocating a special bureau for disaster communication systems, but telcom representatives are failing to explain what should be done in the future. Meanwhile, VoIP vendors aren't invited to speak.

At the top of the list of government failures during Hurricane Katrina was the breakdown of emergency communciations services. Today, FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposed creating a new internal bureau in the  FCC to coordinate planning and response for communication systems, reports Advanced IP Pipeline.

Martin also told attendees at the commission's monthly meeting that the FCC would also provide approximately $200 million in financial assistance to telecom customers and companies, and also convene an “expert panel” to review what lessons might be learned from the effects of Katrina, the web site said.

Advanced IP Pipeline reports that the meeting largely consisted of telecom representatives reporting on the extent of the damage, with little lip service paid to lessons learned and policy changes. Also missing from the meeting were representatives from any VoIP companies.

“Now, once again, the VoIP industry has been excluded from the dialogue,” wrote VoIP entreprenuer Jeff Pulver in a blog posting Thursday. “As a result, I fear that the public might miss out on the full story and may never understand the positive role that IP technology could play going forward in times of public catastrophe.”

Perhaps Vonage and other VoIP representatives might be invited to participate in the FCC’s proposed “expert panel,” which Martin said will be charged with making recommendations to the commission about how to improve network readiness, reliability, and communications between first responders. One theme that emerged from Thursday’s hearing was the revelation that many competitors worked together to jointly re-establish services, a trend that FCC commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said “might serve as a template” for future disaster-response efforts.

“From this process, we need to learn what worked, what did not, and what the commission should do now to make our communications networks more robust in the future,” said Martin. “We need to improve our ability to serve the public in the event of another disaster, and we need to provide leadership to the industry to focus attention on what could be improved.”

For FCC commissioner Michael Copps, the actions can’t come too quickly.

“It’s not that the commission hasn’t acted in the past, it hasn’t done enough,” said Copps, who noted that groups like the 9/11 commission noted that the nation still is in a “state of communications unreadiness,” more than four years after the terrorist attacks showed flaws in communications infrastructures.

“Hurricane Katrina showed us we still have far to go,” Copps said. “Now people are talking again about full-scale [communications] planning. This time we dare not fail.”

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