FCC moves ahead with powerline broadband rules

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will look into ways that an emerging broadband option – broadband over power lines – can coexist with other devices using radio frequency.

The FCC on Thursday voted to move forward with a process to measure interference caused by broadband over power line service. Broadband over power lines – often called BPL – delivers high-speed Internet access using near ubiquitous power lines, but some licensed users of radio frequency spectrum have complained that BPL interferes with their signals.

The FCC notice of proposed rulemaking will attempt to measure radio frequency emissions from BPL equipment. Several groups, including the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have expressed concerns over the unlicensed BPL equipment interfering with their licensed radio signals. However, Ahn Wride, a senior engineer in the FCC's Office of Engineering Technology, said FCC staff are confident the interference problems can be resolved.

In December, FEMA sent a letter to the FCC outlining their concerns about interference. But in January, FEMA undersecretary Michael Brown sent a second letter to the FCC saying the agency believes some rules for BPL could solve the problem.

Commissioners touted BPL as a potential competitor to digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modem service. With power lines nearly everywhere, BPL could provide broadband access to places not served by cable or DSL, FCC chairman Michael Powell said. "It really has the potential of being the great broadband hope for most of rural America," he said.

ARRL representatives said they were disappointed with the FCC's decision to move forward with BPL rules. BPL isn't likely to become a choice for residents of rural areas because of the cost of deploying it, said ARRL President Jim Haynie. "I had hoped the FCC would have shown a greater depth of understanding of the issue," he said in a statement.

The ARRL argued that the FCC rules will place the burden of proof on licensed users of the radio spectrum experiencing interference from BPL. But commissioners downplayed interference complaints while voting to move forward with BPL rules. "While we must be mindful of harmful interference, we cannot let unsupported claims stand in the way of such an innovation as BPL systems," said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "... We need to push the boundaries to accommodate new technologies."

The notice adopted by the FCC:

  • Proposes that BPL devices use technologies that lessen the possibility of interference.

  • Proposes developing a public database of BPL deployments that would include location and frequencies of BPL devices.

  • Seeks comment on radio frequency measurement guidelines for BPL devices.

BPL vendors such as Amperion and Current Technologies have begun offering BPL service in limited areas. Representatives from both companies were unavailable for comment Thursday.

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