FCC Rural Broadband Initiative Includes BPL, TVBDs

Interest in broadband over power lines (BPL)--a technology that uses frequencies ranging from the medium wave to low-band VHF to carry data--appears to be waning, as evidenced by systems being shut down or scaled back, and few new systems being constructed. However, this week the FCC, in its "Bringing Broadband to Rural America" report, said, “While issues remain, broadband over power lines continues to emerge as a viable option.” Some BPL systems have been found to cause interference to shortwave radio and amateur radio operation, while others appear to be able to co-exist with few problems.

The report also covered TV band devices (TVBDs, also known as “white space devices”), which the FCC said could play a role in rural broadband “middle-mile” solutions. Noting that the commission determined that power greater than the 4 watts EIRP for fixed links would increase the risk of interference in congested areas, the report noted that the commission realizes that the technology does offer some advantages, including reduced infrastructure costs and an increased service range for operation of unlicensed TVBDs at even greater power levels. It noted that it plans to explore this further with a separate Notice of Inquiry to determine if higher powered unlicensed operation might be accommodated in rural areas in TV white spaces.

As I live in a rural area, I found the report interesting and encouraging. The FCC recognizes that new Internet applications will require higher data rates and acknowledges the United States is lagging behind other countries in this area. It also recognizes that latency makes a difference, especially in applications such as voice over IP and Internet gaming. Latency is a problem for Internet service providers using geostationary satellites, along with loss of connectivity in bad weather. Numerous wireless options are discussed.