FCC Adopts BPL Rules
October 19, 2004
At last Thursday's open meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order outlining rules for Broadband over Power Line (BPL). As discussed in previous RF Reports, licensed users of the HF and low VHF spectrum have expressed concern over widespread interference to their operations from BPL systems using the same or related frequencies for data transmission on power lines. The Commissioners recognized the potential for interference, but said the new rules provided adequate protection for licensed spectrum users. While the text of the Report and Order is not likely to be available for a few weeks, the FCC News Release listed some of the rules it adopted to prevent interference. They include:
* Technical requirements that BPL devices have the capability to avoid using any specific frequency and the ability to be adjusted or shut down remotely.
* Excluding BPL from certain frequency bands to protect aeronautical communication and aircraft receivers and establishing "exclusion zones" in locations close to sensitive operations where BPL would be excluded from other bands.
* Establishing consultation requirements with public safety agencies, federal government sensitive stations, and aeronautical stations.
* Establishing a public available Access BPL database to help facilitate identification and resolution of harmful interference.
* Changing equipment authorization for Access BPL systems from verification to certification, although only system components, not entire systems, would be subject to certification.
* Improving measurement procedures for all equipment that use RF to communicate over power lines.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) was guardedly optimistic about the new rules. In the article FCC Acknowledges Interference Potential of BPL as it Okays Rules to Deploy It, ARRL notes that three members of the Commission "specifically mentioned the concerns of Amateur Radio operators at the meeting and expressed either assurances or hope that the new BPL rules will adequately address interference to licensed services." The article quotes Anh Wride from the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) acknowledging that Access BPL devices "pose a somewhat higher potential for interference to licensed radio services than typical Part 15 devices," but explaining, "we believe the specific benefits of BPL warrant acceptance of a small degree of additional risk, and that this interference potential can be satisfactorily managed."
From comments in the ARRL article and the comments of Commissioners issuing separate statements, it was clear some Access BPL systems will not meet the new requirements and will have to shut down. ARRL quotes OET Deputy Chief Bruce Franca, "Some of the technologies that are being deployed today do not have all of the capabilities that we are requiring for BPL systems, so there'll have to be some adjustments to current deployments." OET Chief Ed Thomas commented, "It's our belief that the notching provides the protection that's reasonable and in the public interest, and we don't think that's a major problem. There's been a lot of rhetoric surrounding this as well."
Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein issued a statement noting "It is clear that some Access BPL systems can co-exist very well with existing licensees in the HF and VHF bands. In the limited cases of increased interference, the Access BPL operators were able to quickly resolve and address the interference problem. Other Access BPL systems, though, have not fared so well, and these systems should not be deployed on a commercial basis if they will continue to result in harmful interference."
Commissioner Michael J. Copps pointed to the U.S. being number 11 in broadband penetration, noting countries like Japan, Korea and Canada give consumers "magnitudes more of capacity at prices far lower than what we are getting..." In his statement approving in part, dissenting in part, he expressed concern about interference from BPL. "I remain concerned with the question of interference to amateur radio users. I take the concerns of this community very seriously, and believe that the FCC has an obligation to work hard to monitor, investigate, and take quick action where appropriate to resolve harmful interference. If interference occurs, we must have a system in place to resolve it immediately. If an amateur radio user makes a complaint and an agreement between the BPL provider and the amateur radio user cannot be reached, the FCC should step in and resolve the matter. These cases must not take years to resolve."
He did see promise in BPL, "So we have a promising technology, maybe even a significant new broadband pipe if everything goes really well. We've got some good technical rules in this item. They can work or be adjusted if we have good monitoring and enforcement. But we just have to get to the big picture and confront the challenges I have mentioned if BPL is going to have a shot at realizing its full potential. Putting it all together, I will vote to approve in part and to dissent in part. And I thank the Bureau, my colleagues, and the many parties who shared their ideas with us, for working so hard and constructively on this promising technology.
Commissioner Kevin J. Martin specifically addressed low VHF TV in his statement, noting "Working closely with NTIA, we have taken strides to address interference concerns of both Government and private users. Nevertheless, I recognize that amateur radio operators still have concerns that they will experience interference from BPL systems. In addition, broadcasters are concerned that BPL systems will cause interference in the low VHF band. I take these concerns -- as well as the other concerns expressed about BPL systems causing interference -- very seriously. I am confident that the Commission will continue to monitor these concerns and will take steps, where needed, to address interference problems going forward."
I'll have more information on this when the Report and Order is released. We'll have to wait until systems are deployed under the new rules to see how effective notching will be and, if there is interference, how vigorously the FCC will respond.