The National Association of Broadcasters appears to be taking the advice of former White House Chief of Staff and now-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he claimed that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton and other officials with the group began crowing via Twitter about how broadcasters were on the air providing information about the unusual 5.8 magnitude quake as cellphone networks jammed.
"Cell phone down post DC quake, free and local broadcasters working. Really?," Wharton tweeted, adding later: "Broadcasters as a lifeline: DC's Emergency Mgt. Assn. advises residents: 'Stay tuned to radio and TV news updates.'" NAB's Zamir Ahmed tweeted, "Wireless networks overwhelmed after VA quake but radio and TV broadcasters still on the air providing lifeline info."
(PICTURES: Damage to Washington National Cathedral)
Broadcasters have been fighting to make the case to policymakers about the importance of over-the-air television amid efforts to push broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband. The NAB has been arguing that broadcasters' "one to many" model of providing news and entertainment is a much more efficient use of spectrum than the "one-to-one" model of the wireless phone industry.
Wireless providers Sprint and Verizon reported that any problems their customers were experiencing following the earthquake were due to overusage and not caused by network breakdowns.
In a statement, CTIA, the wireless industry's trade group, echoed this, saying, "Our industry's infrastructure appears to be intact, but because many wireless consumers are using the networks, we are experiencing higher than normal traffic. In these high volume instances, there can be delays. We encourage people to send text messages and emails to contact their loved ones."
Meanwhile, public safety officials and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., say the cell phone network congestion problems that occurred in the wake of the earthquake provided more evidence of why public safety officials need their own national broadband network. Public safety officials and some lawmakers have been pushing for passage of legislation that would reallocate spectrum and authorize funding to help build a national broadband network for public safety.
"Today's earthquake is yet one more wake-up call that first responders need a unified, dedicated communications system that is interoperable and will work in times of emergency like today when cell phone coverage is over-utilized and overwhelmed," according to a statement released late Tuesday from Rockefeller's office. "When Congress returns in September, it's critical they immediately take up consideration of Sen. Rockefeller's spectrum bill because nothing's more important than the public's safety."
This view was echoed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, which has been lobbying along with other groups that represent emergency first responders for Rockefeller's legislation.
"The events of today once again prove how powerful the argument for dedicated spectrum is for public safety, and becomes so understandable for those today that tried to reach their loved ones by wireless devices and could not do so," the group's spokesman, Sean Kirkendall, said in a statement.