Remember the FCC's consideration of deployable aerial communications architecture (DACA) to restore communications in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Katrina? The Commission released its first public notice on this last January and also issued a White Paper outlining its vision for 'Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture last September.
Last Thursday, May 24, the FCC took the next step in developing rules for DACA with the release of a Notice of Inquiry (FCC 12-53).
There is no mention of broadcasting in the Notice of Inquiry (NOI); however, the document does outline challenges in finding a way to restore two-way voice and data communications for both emergency services and the public. Several technologies are discussed, including tethered airships (nice because the height can be adjusted to minimize interference), portable VHF and UHF repeaters on-board Civil Air Patrol aircraft circling over the area (inexpensive), high altitude platforms (wide coverage) and unmanned aerial vehicles. Many of these technologies are currently being used by the United States Military. The FCC asked what lessons we can learn from these deployments.
The NOI seeks comments on the advantages and disadvantages of the different technologies, including cost, payload capability, ease of deployment and potential interference to other communications systems. (Interference to communications outside the disaster area is a concern for systems operating at high altitude, with AT&T expressing concern that DACA systems operating on the same frequencies it uses for its network could hinder its crews' efforts to restore damaged terrestrial sites.)
The NOI notes that coordinating DACA services between different agencies and private telecom providers will be a major challenge, and invited comments on how best to do this.
While it doesn't appear broadcasting will be part of DACA, broadcasters have become increasingly reliant on public cell phone and data networks to cover news and gather emergency information. They should be interested in the FCC's plans to allow use of DACA to quickly restore these networks.
Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.
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