An independent panel to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina oncommunications networks, convened by the U.S. FederalCommunications Commission (FCC), met for the first timeMonday.

By June 15, the Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of HurricaneKatrina on Communications Networks will issue recommendations tothe FCC on improving disaster preparedness, network reliability andcommunications among first responders. Public safety agencies fromaffected areas in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana arerepresented on the panel, along with carriers, satellite providers,equipment vendors, broadcasters, a cable provider and others,according to an FCC advisory.

The hurricane, which devastated much of New Orleans and a broadswath of the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, caused widespread damage tomultiple communications networks, which hindered relief efforts.FCC Chairman Kevin Martin estimated last September that 3 millionpeople lost phone service and more than 1,000 wireless towers wereknocked down in the storm and subsequent flooding, while somecarriers predicted hundreds of millions in costs and months ofrestoration work.

The panel that met Monday in Washington, D.C., includes WilliamSmith, chief technology officer of BellSouth Corp., the regionalincumbent carrier, as well as officials from Sprint Nextel Corp.,Cingular Wireless LLC, cable operator Cox Communications Inc. andMotorola Inc., a major provider of public-safety radios and cellphones. Also represented is, a group that includes manywireless Internet service providers that use unlicensed radiospectrum. Late last year, New Orleans began rolling out a freemunicipal Wi-Fi mesh network, in part to establish communicationssooner than wired networks could be fully restored.

At the opening meeting Monday, which was open to the public, thegroup was set to discuss its committee structure and a tentativetimeline for producing its recommendations.