Along with the failure of the wired communications infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region, newly deployed wireless networks fared no better during Hurricane Katrina. The failure of wireless communications was so complete that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco blasted telecommunications providers for the collapse.
After announcing that the communications network was “completely gone,” last week, Blanco said wireless networks throughout the state remained down, and that state officials were unable to use handheld communications devices such as Blackberrys.
The breakdown has once again exposed the shortcomings in wireless communications networks during public emergencies. The failure directly affects television broadcasters because stations have been accused of tying up much needed analog spectrum.
Critics have argued that more spectrum — specifically bands now occupied by the broadcasters for ENG and other uses — needs to be earmarked for emergency communications, and that networks need more redundancy to function in disasters.
It is expected that the House Commerce Committee will revisit the issue as early as this week. Reports are that a review of public safety communications is a high priority for Chairman Joe Barton.
Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ) has been a severe critic of emergency communications. He has argued that delays in the transition to DTV by broadcasters have prevented much-needed improvement of emergency communications.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said last week that Congress must consider hurricane-related communications failures in the context of new bills that set a hard date for the return of analog spectrum from broadcasters.