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FCC Investigating Communications Congestion During Quake

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has directed the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to get together with wireless carriers and public safety call centers to "determine the cause of reported outages" following Tuesday's earthquake.

Both the cell phone lobby, CTIA, and public safety officers have said that the post-quake congestion is an argument for more spectrum for commercial wireless and a public safety network, though CTIA: The Wireless Association said Tuesday the issue was congestion and not "outages" per se.

"We are very concerned by incidents where emergency wireless calls to 911 after yesterday's earthquake were hampered by network congestion," said Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett. "Thankfully, there have been no reports thus far about serious injuries or lives lost.  Nevertheless, these are the moments when mobile phone service is needed most -- and disruptions puts lives at risk." Barnett made no explicit connection between the congestion and a need for more spectrum.

Barnett did say the earthquake was a reminder of the need for next generation 911 services that allow "text, photo and video emergency message capabilities." He said the FCC would continue to work with its private and federal partners on its PLAN alert system to provide a path for text messages around network congestion. It is testing the service in New York.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.