FCC, FEMA officials tout the importance of broadcasting


The FCC and FEMA issued guidelines on what steps citizens should take before, during and after a local disaster – and what is striking is the fact that broadcasters are cited as a strong source of critical information. On the flip side, citizens are asked to avoid putting strain on easily-overburdened wireless service.

The FCC’s Julius Genachowski stated, ““When disaster strikes, the ability to communicate is essential. However, power outages and other issues can interfere with the way people ordinarily communicate, making it harder to reach loved ones or emergency services. The FCC is committed to ensuring the public’s safety through the reliability of our nation’s communications networks. But there are also simple steps that consumers can take to prepare for a disaster as well as practical ways to better communicate during and after an event. I encourage all Americans to become familiar these tips and share them with friends and family.”

Also making a statement was FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. He said, “Between the East Coast earthquake, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and wildfires in Texas and California, we have had a lot of powerful reminders lately that disasters can strike anytime, anywhere – and can often make it difficult for the public to communicate with friends, loved ones or emergency personnel. An important part of preparing for disasters includes getting ready for potential communications challenges, whether caused by power outages or heavy cell network congestion. These simple tips are easy for anyone to follow and could make a world of difference when it matters the most.”

There were only two simple recommendations involving broadcasters.

When an emergency situation is known to be on the way:
* Have a battery-powered radio or television available (with spare batteries).

During an emergency:
* Tune into broadcast television and radio for important news alerts.  If applicable, be sure that you know how to activate the closed captioning or video description on your television.

On the flip side, citizens are asked to avoid using their cell phones as much as possible once an emergency situation is in progress. They are reminded that cell service cannot handle 9-1-1 calls, that text messaging, email and social media communications are preferable to cell voice calls due to capacity concerns, and that cell batteries should not be run down with long calls or for use in gaming, video-streaming or other applications.

RBR-TVBR observation: The message is clear: During an emergency, rely on broadcast and avoid using your cell phone as much as possible. The way we read the FCC’s own advice is that it should be doing everything within its power to assure that free over-the-air broadcasting remains a strong and competitive member of the full media spectrum, not a target for spectrum-repurposing.

Just how reliable are broadcasters? FCC and FEMA seem to believe broadcasters are more reliable than utilities – otherwise, there would be no point in have battery-operated broadcast receivers. Given a supply of batteries stored in advance, and citizens will have access to broadcast information long after their cell phones have gone dead.

The one-to-many signal delivery model used by broadcasters is by far a more efficient use of spectrum than the one-to-one mobile model. We have nothing against improving mobile service, but not at the expense of losing broadcast service, still by far the most reliable communications service around under emergency conditions.

Above all, it underscores the idea that broadcaster should not be seen as an element in solving the national debt crisis, whether by auctioning spectrum or charging new spectrum fees.

Broadcasters chip in when the chips are down in the way few other for-profit business operators do – and as an industry, it would be greatly appreciated if broadcasters are treated as they deserve to be treated: as a national treasure, not a source for filling the national treasury.