FCC Warns BPL Operator To Address Ham Band Interference Problem

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), a national amateur radio organization, reported that the FCC Spectrum Enforcement Division Chief Joseph Casey sent two strongly worded letters to the city of Manassas, Va. and its broadband over power line operator, COMTek, regarding a complaint filed by amateur radio operator Dwight Agnew, AI4II on Jan. 19 concerning harmful BPL interference along a Virginia business route.

Casey asked the city and COMTek to follow up on the complaint in March. In April, COMTek released a statement saying the Manassas BPL system was "a real success story," and its testing showed "an almost identical" level of interference whether or not the system was in operation and made a similar claim to the FCC in the Agnew case, according to the ARRL. The FCC rejected the reports from Manassas and COMTek, saying they failed to indicate specific steps taken to address Agnew's complaint or even conduct tests with Agnew present. Casey said test measurements did not demonstrate emissions in the area described in Agnew's complaint had been reduced at least 20 dB below the Part 15 limit.

Although COMTek indicated that it expects emissions can be reduced to this level once second-generation BPL equipment is in place on this route by the end of July, in the letter to the city and COMTek Casey said, "We note that a failure to respond until the end of July to any complaint alleging harmful interference in an effort to determine if the new equipment resolves the matter is not sufficient" and asked the city and COMTek to "reach a resolution" in this interference case as soon as possible.

The letter said, "It appears that the BPL system is not in compliance with the Commission's emission requirements at several frequencies. ... You are directed to take immediate steps to eliminate all excessive emissions." Manassas and COMTek were given 30 days to clean up the system as well as take any additional actions necessary for the system to remain in compliance with the FCC's rules.

The second letter concerned long standing interference complaints from five other amateur radio operators and directed Manassas and COMTek to "take appropriate remedial steps to eliminate any instances of harmful interference" or reduce emissions in the areas cited in the complaints to 20 dB below the Part 15 limit.

ARRL CEO David Sumner (K1ZZ) said the League is "especially gratified" that the Enforcement Bureau's Spectrum Enforcement Division had ordered the City of Manassas to take steps to prepare for a cessation of BPL services. "Clearly, the FCC has lost patience with COMTek's reliance on misleading news releases as a substitute for meaningful solutions to the ongoing interference," Sumner said.