MIchelle Clancy ©RapidTVNews | 31-08-2011

In the wake of the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene, which knocked out infrastructure up and down the US East Coast, the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) is stressing the critical role that free-to-air mobile DTV can play in such situations.

The OMVC has sent an open letter to the FCC, noting that both terrestrial telecom and traditional cellular networks are often not up to the task of handling critical communications in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Broadcast often fills the gap, it said, including the group’s technology of choice, mobile DTV, which enables local affiliates to send out free-to-air programming over the air without using the cellular WAN.

OMVC President Vince Sadusky asked the regulatory body to “recognise and support” broadcasters and mobile DTV as tools for getting information to the masses in times of crisis. Speaking of the East Coast earthquake, he wrote: “Once again, as wireless networks failed under stress from predictably increased call volumes, broadcast television stations were on the air offering an uninterrupted real time service available simultaneously to anyone, and everyone, with a television set.”

The letter also noted that after March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the wireless net failed, so it was free-to-air broadcast television to the rescue to let citizens know about evacuation plans, rescue operations and safety precautions.

“Fortunately, Tuesday’s earthquake was a minor event, involving no loss of life, minimal property damage and little more than temporary inconvenience for most Washington-area residents,” the letter noted. “Yet we can’t help noting that even in these relatively benign circumstances, both network operators and the Department of Homeland Security were urging consumers not to use their mobile phones, and instead to rely on e-mail and text messages to stay informed and communicate with friends and family, because network congestion so severely limited the effectiveness of mobile networks.”

In case the point was missed, Sadusky put a finer point on it. “Wireless networks simply are not now, and never will be, in a position to deliver the sort of ubiquitous, bandwidth intensive information during a time of crisis that broadcast television and mobile DTV stations delivered on Tuesday,” he wrote. “Merely allocating additional spectrum to wireless networks will not enable them to do so. Cellular economics do not allow for the massive build-out of network infrastructure that would be necessary to support the large call and data volume that invariably is triggered by mass events of this nature.”