Companies Tell of Cooperation Among Competitors in Midst of Katrina

Author: John Eggerton

On Thursday, the FCC held an open meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, hearing from telecom industries affected by Hurricane Katrina. Devastation of the Gulf Coast spurred unusual collaboration among competing communications firms, and sometimes put the FCC in odd roles, such as helping to guard a broadcast station's fuel deliveries. The most emotional testimony came from Gulf Coast area broadcasters, who told of workers wading into alligator-laden swamps to fix generators and of Clear Channel helping to keep Entercom's all news WWL(AM) on the air. Diane Newman, operations dir. of Entercom's WWL(AM) in New Orleans, said her station's joint operation with Clear Channel to broadcast from Baton Rouge was an "unprecedented cooperation between broadcasters." Speakers touched on familiar issues. Hearst-Argyle TV News Vp Fred Young said the Gulf Coast situation made him wonder how there could be push for early return of analog spectrum. During a crisis like this, it's important that all viewers get information, he said. Willis Carter, first vp of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, said more action is needed by government agencies and Congress to protect public safety. Carter told of harrowing experiences as he visited dispatch centers in affected areas. Employees often were living in the centers, working with damaged towers, low fuel and an inability to communicate. He said he saw "devastation and despair" in all of them. Speakers praised the FCC's speedy approval of waivers that legitimized some cooperative efforts, also describing how FCC personnel filled unusual roles, such as finding government security forces to protect employees working in communications facilities. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin used the forum of the meeting to reveal plans to help communications firms and customers and better prepare for the future: 1) Creation of an FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau; 2) Directing $211 million in relief to affected areas through universal service support, working through existing programs such as the high-cost program and E-Rate; and 3) Creation of a panel of public safety and communications industry experts to study Katrina's impact on the communications infrastructure and suggest ways for the FCC to improve disaster preparedness, network reliability and first responders communications.
(Not available online)
See also:
* Bigger Was Better in Katrina, Suggest Media Execs
It was Big Media companies' interconnectedness, vast resources and creative partnerships (the latter may have been called collusion in other circumstances) that helped provide vital local information during Hurricane Katrina's strike and aftermath, several broadcasters told the FCC Thursday.
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