May Urges Redundant Telecom Systems for Key Gov’t Offices
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Are communications systems at key federal agencies vulnerable to disruption during national emergencies such as the September 11 attacks or the recent northeastern electricity blackout? A new article, "Protecting Communications," urges the federal government to do what it takes to ensure the answer to that question is "no". Its author supports a policy to expand "redundant communications facilities where federal personnel work," using diverse routing of lines and the use of backup systems.
"Immediately following September 11, it became apparent a broader communications failure had occurred due to the lack of truly redundant facilities," writes Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow and Director of Communications Policy Studies Randolph J. May. "When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, fiber-optic cables beneath the buildings were crushed and a nearby Verizon switching office sustained massive damage." A month after September 11, "thousands of customers still had no phone service," May writes. Those entities that maintained communications "typically had installed redundant facilities in the form of a fixed-wireless backup system" using rooftop transceivers that transmitted to diverse switching centers."
Citing a December Markle Foundation report calling for 'multiple and redundant communications pathways', and a National Security white paper that found reliability is compromised with concentration of carrier facilities, May worries that "many federal agencies apparently still are not significantly better prepared than many corporations were two years ago. Many federal buildings apparently still lack network redundancy, and, thus, are too vulnerable to communications disruptions."
In his own study, May stipulates basic requirements for facilities to be "truly redundant": communications facility entry and exit points to a building must be "physically separate, by a significant distance, from the facilities of the incumbent provider"; there should be separate rights-of-way between the building and routing center; and alternate services should "utilize a physically separate switching or routing center." He urges a systematic approach by the Department of Homeland Security or the General Services Administration through regulation, bulletin or guideline.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.