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EAS - An Opportunity and an Obligation

22 марта 2006

By Chuck Hewitt.

With disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina we have learned several lessons; one of the most important is that communication is vital in both saving lives as well as insuring order in the aftermath of any disaster. Anyone who has had the occasion to deal with government should not have been surprised at the inability of the local, state and federal agencies to respond. However, with their inability to communicate between various officials and enforcement personnel, along with no mechanism to communicate to the population, renders it impossible for any entity to efficiently perform in such circumstances.

Satellite has phones, radio and video that works in times of disaster. Satellite phones have proven their value, and obliviously our government still does not know how to take advantage of that ability. While satellite TV does need power, where power is available (generators, etc), it's a key part of communication in times of crisis. Satellite radio works in cars and portable radios. We have antennas that can withstand 150 mph winds. We can act nationally at a moments notice and we could become a key part of protecting people's lives and their property.

There will be another 9/11 and another hurricane the magnitude of Katrina. We may resist the thought, but we are in another World War that may last for decades.

The FCC rules on satellite participation in the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which provides for national alerts in disaster situations, has had mixed response from the satellite industry. The mixed response has ranged from "we can help" to "it's not our problem -it's local." Instead of sitting down and presenting an industry-wide positive proposal, we provide the FCC and government the alternative to dictate rules that are a burden and most likely will not provide the best method of providing support during times of crisis. We do have alternatives to present a plan and we have an obligation to participate in the fight against terrorism and to support efforts during natural disasters.

The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied successfully to place public service obligations on the DBS industry which resulted in four to seven percent of capacity to be set aside for that purpose. An entity must qualify by meeting the government's definition of "public interest" in order to utilize the spectrum allocated by satellite providers. It's obvious that a channel dedicated by both platforms could qualify. In fact it would probably be the only worthwhile public service channel on their systems.

And for XM and Sirius ... guess what's coming down the road at you compliments of the NAB? Yes, a public service obligation. Most likely the approach will be similar to DBS, a set aside of capacity. So, we have an opportunity to beat them to the punch by providing vital public service on a national level, and by dedicating a channel by each provider.

Another alternative would be for the four platforms to provide access to spectrum during times of need ... in other words the spectrum could be used for regular business purposes but be available on an as needed basis. While this is not comprehensive and may not qualify for public service, it could be a good start.

This should be accomplished by coordinating all four companies to ensure continuity and accuracy in information flow. In order to qualify as a public service entity, SBCA or a special non-profit should be set up to manage the effort. One studio could be established for all four platforms to utilize simultaneously to guarantee that the same accurate communication is delivered by all four satellite companies. If channels are not dedicated, then a single studio should still be utilized, which could be located at one of the platform companies with feeds to the others. The process and information sources would be set up in coordination with the FCC, Homeland Security, NOAA and other pertinent government agencies.

While our industry has shown very little ability to cooperate, this is a good opportunity to start.

Chuck Hewitt, former president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, is a principal of Atlas Business Development, which assists companies in business development and maximizing their sales and distribution performance. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckHewitt@gmail.com.


Source: SkyREPORT E-News

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