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September 16, 2005

Internet Calling's Role in Katrina Aftermath Understated

Courtesy of TechWeb News

VoIP enthusiasts say that Internet telephony played a wider role than may be generally appreciated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

VoIP delivered some important communications service after traditional landline and cell phone service collapsed, they insist, while complaining that VoIP providers should have been represented at Thursday’s FCC meeting at BellSouth facilities in Atlanta.

“Text messaging, e-mail, Web-obtained information, video blogs and other streaming media and other IP-based applications were instrumental in keeping people connected and informed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” Jeff Pulver, a VoIP expert and creator of the Voice Over Net conferences, said in an e-mail.

All application providers of IP and not just VoIP were “slighted” by not being at the meeting, Pulver noted.

“If you had a broadband connection, you had Vonage,” said Vonage spokesman Mitchell Slepian. “We’re continuing to get requests for help from the region.”

Slepian said Vonage supplied a number of Vonage devices to a Baton Rouge hospital after some of its service had been disrupted.

At the FCC meeting Thursday, Chairman Kevin Martin proposed to provide some $211 million worth of phone and data service to victims of the hurricane. Monies from the Universal Service Fund would be used to fund the effort.

Several representatives from the telecommunications industry attended the meeting. Most companies had experienced serious outages of their services in the aftermath of Katrina except satellite telephone service provider Iridium. Indeed satellite phone service from Iridium and Globalstar functioned well throughout the emergency, according to media reports.

There was a precedent set for using VoIP in a previous hurricane. When Hurricane Charlie roared over Florida last year, VIP Realty in Fort Myers discovered its normal landline and cable service had been knocked out. But T-1 and Wi-Fi lines continued to function, enabling the firm to route calls over VoIP.

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