FCC begins review of Katrina impact


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The FCC has established an independent panel to review the impact of Hurricane Katrina on communications networks. Twenty-four members from various sectors of the telecommunications and media industries have been appointed to serve on the panel. The vice presidents of engineering from Clear Channel and Entercom have been designated to represent broadcasters on the panel. Other sectors represented are public safety organizations, wireline telecommunications providers, wireless telecommunications providers, cable providers, satellite providers, equipment providers, utilities and unlicensed telecommunications providers.

The panel has been given the tasks of 1) reviewing the impact of Hurricane Katrina on telecommunications and media infrastructure in the affected area and 2) submitting recommendations to the FCC for improving disaster preparedness, network reliability and communications among first responders. A report from the panel is due June 15, 2006.

Despite the botched governmental response before and after Katrina struck, there is a perception in many circles that the FCC's performance was praiseworthy. Press reports described Commission staffers working long hours — seven days a week, making themselves available to resolve problems, responding to requests and generally providing relief where needed. The positive PR for the agency and its staff was considerable, particularly in contrast to the unrelenting criticism to which other agencies (FEMA) were subject.

While in retrospect the FCC might be second-guessed on some aspects of its post-Katrina approach, (for example, why did the FCC insist on having licensees seek individual STA's for emergency facilities when the agency could presumably have simply granted a blanket STA to all licensees in the storm-affected areas) the overall take-home message has been that the FCC went beyond the call of duty in facilitating emergency communications to Katrina-ravaged areas.

Presumably with that positive image in mind, the Commission is seeking to reconfirm its role as an effective force for good. The panel is seeking input from all interested members of the public. Written statements may be submitted at any time. In addition, short oral presentations from the public were solicited for the panel's next meeting.

The panel convened its inaugural meeting in Washington in January, but it plans to hold its next meeting in Jackson, MS, on March 6. Requests to make oral presentations were invited by public notice that was issued in February. It is not clear whether there will be additional opportunities to make direct, oral presentations to the panel at the March 6 meeting, but presumably such opportunities will arise in connection with future meetings.

Written and oral presentations to the panel during the March 6 meeting are to focus on 1) the impact of Hurricane Katrina on telecommunications and media infrastructure and public safety communications, 2) the sufficiency and effectiveness of the recovery effort with respect to this infrastructure and 3) ways to improve disaster preparedness, network reliability and communications among first responders.

Panel meetings are open to the public and may also be viewed on the FCC's website.

Renewal cycle ends

The renewal cycle for radio stations, LPFMs and FM translators which began on June 1, 2003, with the filing of renewals for stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, ended on April 1 with the filing of renewals for stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Radio station license renewals are now issued for eight years. Thus, radio stations whose renewals were filed on April 1 will, in most cases, be granted for a term ending Aug. 1, 2014. The next radio renewal cycle will begin June 1, 2011, for stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.


Dateline:

Radio stations in Michigan and Ohio must file biennial ownership reports on or before June 1, 2006.

June 1 also is the deadline for radio stations in Arizona, DC, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming to place their annual EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites.


Martin is immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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