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FCC Panel Tackles Preparedness

By | June 2, 2003

      Leaders from the satellite, cable and broadcast industries gathered last week to comment on “best practices” recommendations intended to ensure effective delivery of information via satellite and other technologies during crises.

      The recommendations were developed by working groups of the Media Security and Reliability Council (MSRC), a 41-member advisory committee set up by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The council is scheduled to vote on the recommendations by June 18.

      The panel, which includes executives from satellite companies PanAmSat [NYSE: SPOT], Intelsat, XM Satellite Radio [Nasdaq: XMSR], Verestar and Pegasus Communications [NYSE: PGTV], reflects the “important responsibility” shared by the government and the media to ensure the dissemination of information to citizens to aid their safety and well being in the event of an emergency such as a terrorist attack, Powell said.

      Ray O’Brien, a council member who also is president and CEO of Verestar, said after the meeting that satellites would play a critical role in the initiatives for homeland security. Areas where satellites can be most useful include intelligence collection and distribution, border and coastal protection, and network security and redundancy, he said.

      Satellites also provide broadband capabilities for transmitting video and data that make the technology “ideal” for first responders, O’Brien said. In addition, satellites should be considered an important component of the future communications architecture that will enhance U.S. security, he added.

      Lon Levin, a council member who is senior vice president of regulatory affairs at XM Satellite Radio, said he was heartened to hear the council meeting address satellite radio as a “viable” way to communicate emergency information. He related that Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge acknowledged that satellite technology is a “critical” part in the delivery of information in times of emergency.

      Powerful Combination

      Barbara Kreisman, chief of the FCC Media Bureau’s video division, said the combination of satellites and terrestrial communication services is “vital” to safeguard communications in times of crises. Satellites were able to deliver communications on Sept. 11 when some terrestrial-based communications, including TV towers on top of the World Trade Center, were disrupted during the terrorist attacks, she added.

      Other recommendations by the working groups include:

      • Continually examining and repairing the vulnerability of satellite infrastructure, especially TT&C.
      • Considering alternative ways of delivering news, such as with direct broadcast satellite or the Internet, as a backup to traditional delivery means.
      • Coordinating local and state governments, along with the media, to create, review and update emergency communications procedures.
      • Forming emergency jurisdiction/market cooperatives to assure coordinated delivery of local emergency messages.
      • Assessing the vulnerability and disaster recovery plans of television and radio stations, as well as cable headends.
      • Reassessing the vulnerabilities of national media companies and taking appropriate measures to prevent loss of service and to expedite rapid recovery.
      • Allowing flexibility in the local use and retransmission of news media content during government declared emergencies.
      • Evaluating the collective vulnerabilities of local media outlets and developing cooperative agreements and plans to ensure some media remain in service under extreme conditions.
      • Having the government coordinate the creation of a Media Common Alert Protocol to deliver emergency messages via digital networks.

      Once the council votes on these recommendations later this month, it will take a summer break and reconvene Nov. 6 at the FCC to consider additional measures to address the optimal reliability, robustness and security of the broadcast and multichannel video programming distribution industries.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Ray O’Brien, Verestar, 703/205-2563; Lon Levin, XM Satellite Radio, 202/380-4068; Barbara Kreisman, FCC, 202/418-1600)

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