FCC to probe Sandy communications failures

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ALBANY -- The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a series of hearings nationwide to try to find ways to avoid widespread loss of communications among first-responders, emergency managers and the public in disasters like superstorm Sandy.

"This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "As our thoughts and sympathies remain with those who have suffered loss and damage as a result of Superstorm Sandy, I urge all stakeholders to engage constructively in the period ahead," he said.

The hearings will begin early next year and will include ways to keep cellphone towers operating after storm damage and power losses. One in four consumers in areas hit hard by Sandy lost service because of the storm.

The first hearings will be in the New York City area, Genachowski said.

The forums also will examine how to keep Wi-Fi service operating and discuss backup power sources for cellphone communications. A major focus will involve speeding the recovery of service.

Genachowski said the 911 emergency communications system mostly remained in operation during Sandy, but the hearings will explore when new technologies might make the system more effective in a disaster.

He also said that once communications were restored for consumers, the service didn't return to normal quality, another issue that also will be explored.

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