Commission seeks input on Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture techniques.

When communications fail in the midst of a disaster, who can you call? Trick question: most often, you can’t call anyone because, as the question assumes, communications have failed.

But the Commission has now taken a preliminary step toward addressing the problem that gives rise to that assumption: as we predicted last year, the FCC has released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) looking toward implementation of Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA) techniques. 

DACA techniques are designed to assist, in emergency situations, with the restoration of communications not just to first responders, but also to consumers.  Think small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAV), weather balloons, high altitude long distance unmanned vehicles (HALE), and deployable suitcase systems.  The idea is to come up with gear that can be deployed during the first 72 hours after a disaster to help ensure communications capabilities without requiring deployment of special user devices. 

The Commission has already sought public comment on DACA, from which the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau prepared a White Paper on the subject.  The NOI is the next procedural step through which the FCC is looking to develop a record on which to base a set of DACA regulations.

As might be expected, the NOI is short on any detailed proposals, but very long on questions about virtually all aspects of DACA.  The Commission is looking for information about: operational/technical details; availability of equipment; previous experience (particularly on the part of the military, which has successfully deployed DACA in a number of emergency scenarios in which infrastructure was unavailable); deployment/cessation criteria; international coordination considerations; and potential licensing mechanisms (e.g., license, temporary authority).

The FCC is also particularly concerned about the potential for DACA-based service creating interference to services that may remain operational despite catastrophic circumstances.

It seems clear that the Commission is convinced of the potential utility of DACA.  But as they say, the devil is in the details. Responses to the NOI should help the FCC craft rules to facilitate maintaining critical services during emergencies, without causing interference to whatever services have managed to survive. We can be confident both that emergencies will continue to occur and that prompt resumption of communication services during those emergencies will be a matter of the highest priority.  If DACA techniques can help in such situations, the sooner the Commission gets a firm handle on those techniques and devises an appropriate regulatory approach to them, the better. The deadlines for comments and reply comments in response to the NOI have not yet been established.  Check back here for updates.