FCC Chairman Kevin Martin today announced three initiatives as communications remain spotty along the Gulf Coast, and as providers work around the clock to restore services.
At the groups monthly meeting which was moved from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, at BellSouth Corp.s Emergency Control Center commissioners heard testimony from communications service providers ranging from RBOCs and CLECs to a communications association and an AM radio station affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Once testimonies wrapped up, Martin said he wants to use $211 million from the Universal Service Fund to reestablish communications services. The agency can make $96 million available for reconnecting schools and libraries, he added.
Martin also said he is establishing a panel to look into ways to improve disaster preparedness, and is forming a new bureau to coordinate homeland security, disaster management and public safety within the FCC.
Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps expressed support for the bureau, and said he wants to bolster the effort by making sure hospitals are integrated into the nations emergency response communications system.
The FCC panel listened to two hours of statements from companies and people affected by the hurricane. Witnesses recounted tales of lawlessness; police escorts; companies that supported workers by providing food, shelter and daycare centers; and extensive damage to infrastructure. [Were] not sure what were going to find when we open up some of the manhole covers, said Ron Odom, president of BellSouth Network Services.
One witness, Diane Newman, operations director of WWL 870 AM in New Orleans, broke down as she spoke about the destruction she and her colleagues saw. Newman also is a Hurricane Betsy survivor.
The FCC further heard from ITC^DeltaCom Inc.s Steve Brownworth, vice president of network ping and systems, and CTIAs Steve Largent, president and CEO. Brownworth described how ITC^DeltaCom, a CLEC, is restoring its switches and fiber optic network. CTIAs Largent expressed his support for the FCC.
Indeed, FCC commissioners today heard a good deal of praise for their response to Hurricane Katrina. The commission has been staying open on weekends so it can waive certain rules so providers and radio stations can resume services, and offering other advice and guidance.
As of yesterday 350,000 Gulf Coast customers still did not have phone service; three 911 call centers remained blacked out; 3,000 cell sites 75 percent of pre-hurricane levels were operational; and 19 TV stations were on the air, with seven still not up and running.