FCC field hearings to examine resiliency of communications network

The Federal Communications Commission will hold field hearings next year to examine the impact of Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters on communications networks and ways to improve their resiliency, the agency announced last week.

No dates have yet been set for the hearings. However, the first of the planned series will be held in New York, the FCC said. Others will be held in areas affected by other natural disasters. The hearings will focus on the challenges faced by communications service provides, government officials, emergency personnel and consumers.

“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications 
networks,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a Web announcement of the hearings. Genachowski called on “all stakeholders to engage constructively in the period ahead.”

According to the announcement, the hearings will seek answers to a series of questions, including:

  • To what extent did service providers take advantage of this advance notice to stage communications assets such as portable cell sites to reduce the effects of the storm?
  • To what extent did service providers notify consumers of their communications options in advance of the storm?
  • What level of service is needed and expected during emergencies and for what modes of communications?
  • When commercial power is unavailable, how long should back-up power sources be expected to last?
  • What capabilities do communications providers offer their customers to alleviate disruptions to communications services during an emergency, or to help maintain back-up power supplies for Internet and cable access? For example, what kinds of solutions are made available to customers to help them charge devices like cell phones?
  • How can the restoration of communications services proceed faster or services remain operational longer? For example, how would changes in availability and prioritization of fuel or other power sources such as generators help, and how could these changes be brought about?