FCC Grants Temporary Waiver to Permit PACTOR 4 for Emergency Communications


The FCC has granted an ARRL request for a 30-day waiver to facilitate relief communications in the wake of Hurricane Laura. The waiver temporarily permits amateur data transmissions at a higher symbol rate than currently permitted under the FCC’s rules. ARRL pointed out in its request that Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) members would be working with federal, state, and local emergency management officials to assist with disaster relief and may use radio modems capable of both PACTOR 3 and PACTOR 4 emissions. The higher data rates PACTOR 4 offers are critical to sending hurricane relief communications, including lists of needed and distributed supplies.

Section 97.307(f) limits the symbol rate — also known as the baud rate — for HF amateur radioteletype (RTTY) and data transmissions to 300 bauds for frequencies below 28 MHz (except on 60 meters), and 1200 bauds in the 10-meter band. “The digital code used to encode the signal being transmitted must be one of the codes specified in section 97.309(a) of the Commission’s rules, but an amateur station transmitting an RTTY or data emission using one of the specified digital codes may use any technique whose technical characteristics have been publicly documented, such as CLOVER, G-TOR, or PACTOR,” the FCC pointed out in granting the request.

In 2016, in response to an ARRL petition for rulemaking, the Commission proposed to remove the symbol rate limitations, which it tentatively concluded had become unnecessary due to advances in modulation techniques and no longer served a useful purpose. That proceeding, WT Docket 16-239, is still pending.

ARRL sought the waiver for radio amateurs directly involved with hurricane relief on HF using PACTOR 4. PACTOR 4 permits relatively high-speed data transmission, and the FCC has granted temporary waivers in the past to permit the use of this protocol in similar events.

“ARRL stands ready to assist the area potentially impacted by Hurricane Laura to conduct disaster relief communications,” the FCC said. “We conclude that granting the requested waiver is in the public interest. Hurricane Laura has the potential to cause massive destruction states along the Gulf of Mexico, and communications services will likely be disrupted.”

The waiver is limited to PACTOR 3 and PACTOR 4 transmissions directly involved with HF hurricane relief communications.

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