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FCC BPL Order Offers No Special Protection for Low-VHF TV

The FCC has released its Report and Order on Access Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems. Regarding the potential for BPL to interfere with low VHF TV channels, the FCC says that it doesn't believe "that Access BPL presents a serious threat of interference to broadcast television service on channels 2 to 6. We note that in many instances all low VHF TV channels are not used within a particular area and those not in use for television service could be used for Access BPL operations without causing harmful interference to TV reception. In this regard, we also note that the effective Part 15 limit for Access BPL is more stringent for frequencies above 30 MHz than it is for frequencies below 30 MHz and that propagation losses are also more significant higher in the spectrum. We therefore do not find that special protections for broadcast television service are warranted."

In response to the American Radio Relay League's filings, the Report and Order says, "The technical studies submitted by ARRL as appendices to its comments do not provide any information which would lead us to alter our assessment that the current emission limits are appropriate." After discussing the ARRL's studies recommending adoption of the more stringent German RegTP standard NB 30 emission level, the FCC concluded, "We believe the approach that we are adopting is a more appropriate policy for balancing the concerns at issue in this matter."

As noted in the October 19 RF Report article on the FCC's adoption of the Report and Order, the FCC agreed that "critical Federal Government and other services specified by NTIA and public safety warrant additional protection. These services, including national defense, maritime distress and safety, aeronautical navigation and communications, emergency response, radioastronomy, and others provide important safety and research services whose functions would be afforded additional protection against possible interference from Access BPL operations. We agree with and are adopting NTIA's approach for addressing additional protection to critical Federal Government and other radio operations."

The FCC agreed with NTIA that "It believes that Access BPL operators, as the parties responsible for eliminating harmful interference, will voluntarily implement equipment, organizational elements, and installation and operating practices that prevent interference and facilitate interference mitigation." The Report and Order includes requirements "that Access BPL systems incorporate capabilities to modify their systems' operations and performance to mitigate or avoid potential harmful interference to radio services and to deactivate specific units found to actually cause harmful interference that cannot be remedied through modification of their operations as proposed, but with certain modifications."

Parties who believe they are receiving interference from BPL systems are expected to first approach the operator of the system to resolve interference problems. If that doesn't resolve the interference, they can seek intervention by the FCC. When the FCC receives a complaint, it will verify that the complainant has approached the BPL provider to resolve the interference. If such an attempt hasn't been made, the FCC will forward the complaint to the BPL provider. If the parties have attempted to address the complaint but the interference hasn't been resolved, then the FCC will review the complaint and take appropriate action, using the resources of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology and its Enforcement Bureau.

The FCC requires that the BPL industry establish a centralized publicly accessible Access BPL notification database within 180 days after publication of the Report and Order in the Federal Register. The database must include the name of the Access BPL provider, the frequencies of the Access BPL operation, the postal zip codes served by the specific Access BPL operation, the manufacturer and type of Access BPL equipment being deployed, point of contact information (both telephone and e-mail address) for interference inquiries and resolution, and the proposed and/or actual date of Access BPL operation.

The FCC warned that "frivolous" interference complaints could inhibit quick resolution. "We expect the Access BPL operators to take every complaint of interference seriously and to diagnose the possible cause of interference quickly. At the same time, we expect the complainant to have first taken reasonable steps to confirm that interference rather than a receiver system malfunction is occurring and, to the extent practicable, to determine that the interference source is located outside the complainant's premises."

An Access BPL operator has to respond to complaints of interference from public safety users within 24 hours and is required to immediately cease the operations causing the public safety complaint if it does not respond within 24 hours. In regard to unresolved interference cases, the Commission said it "will investigate the complaint and take action against the Access BPL operator if it is found to be causing harmful interference. If, on the other hand the Commission uses its resources to investigate an interference complaint that is found to be frivolous, the Commission will impose appropriate sanctions for abuse of its administrative process."

Responding to filings from the American Radio Relay League representing amateur radio operators, the Report and Order includes a footnote stating, "We would also advise ARRL that in cases where its members experience reception of RF noise, such noise can often be avoided by carefully locating their antennas; in many instances an antenna relocation of only a relatively short distance can resolve noise interference."

For the ARRL's observations on the Report and Order, see the ARRL web site article FCC BPL Report and Order Stresses Avoidance, Resolution of Harmful Interference. Refer the Report and Order on Access Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems for all the rules related to Access BPL, including details on the certification and radiation measurement requirements.