Communicating After the Disaster

Jeff Pulver and Tom Evslin have a suggestion for a new FCC regulation [via phoneboy]. Their suggestion has two options: Firstly, that the FCC require that all phone numbers have an associated emergency voice mailbox; or, secondly, that the FCC require that said numbers be easily ported, that is, switched between carriers. Both would only apply in the event of a long-term outage.

Voice mail acts in this case as a reliable store-and-forward message passing medium. Because the mailbox is not physically on the evacuated premises, the probability of its surviving a calamity is higher — unlike answering machines which may be unavailable if lines are down or power is out. I like the observation that telephone numbers served to more exactly identify missing persons, and that voice mail enabled communications. However, I think that providing these mailboxes only in emergency situations will make them mostly unusable. They are not easy to learn to use even without the stress of having a tornado blow your house to bits. Frontier has bundled voice mail with our landline, but we don’t use it.

The second suggestion, of providing for telephone number porting within two hours of a request, is interesting. Some numbers are electronically portable; they can be moved between carriers without involving physical labor. There are, however, numbers still extant that require physical movement of wires. This option would require a facilities upgrade which would reduce the operating expenses associated with number portability. That may not be where the network operator would like to spend capital funds. But the proposal is more interesting than simply setting a time limit for the cutover. In addition, Mr. Evslin and Mr. Pulver ask that the FCC revise the existing portability regulations in order to permit porting numbers across geographic boundaries: it does no good to require fast porting while restricting the transfer to another provider within the disaster zone.

Comments are due by April 27, 2006. You may comment here. The proceeding ID is RM-11327.