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FCC Investigates Broadband Network Resiliency

In previous RF Reports I've illustrated how broadcasting is able to get critical information to people in areas affected by natural disasters or terrorist attacks when landlines, wireless services (cell phone and broadband) and cable TV are either damaged or overloaded.

While waiting for what could have been a major tsunami in Hawaii after the recent Chilean earthquake, TV and radio reports asked residents not to use the Internet, telephones or cell phones. It isn't surprising in light of the FCC's apparent view of wireless broadband as the successor to wireless broadcasting that they are looking for ways to make America's broadband infrastructure more robust.

At Wednesday's open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Inquiry (FCC 10-62) [PDF] "to enhance our understanding of the present state of survivability in broadband communications networks and to explore potential measures to reduce network vulnerability to failures in network equipment or severe overload conditions, such as would occur in natural disasters, pandemics, and other disasters or events that would restrain our ability to communicate."

The FCC is concerned that large scale events such as a pandemic or bio-terror attacks could result in a shift in traffic onto residential-access networks, noting that if networks are unprepared or have insufficiently resources, the resulting congestion could threaten the economy and prevent citizens from accessing critical public safety services.

The Notice of Inquiry (NOI) does not recommend any specific changes, but expresses more concern about "edge" networks than the core broadband network system. It also seeks comments on the survivability of the physical facilities in which network elements are located. As you may recall, a few well placed fiber cuts wiped out Internet, cell phone service and even some public safety radio systems in parts of Northern California for most of a day.

The NOI doesn't mention broadcasting, but it may be appropriate for broadcasters to point out how their proven response in emergencies could help in scenarios described in the NOI.

Broadcasting can't replace VoIP 911 telephone service, two-way public safety communications or email communications needed to maintain the functioning of the economy but will provide citizens a way to receive critical information without overloading IP networks with streaming video and audio.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.