For an FCC blog, that’s a little like saying “dog bites man” – not really news.
You have to admire their persistence. ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, has yet again challenged the FCC’s rules for Broadband-over-Power-Line (BPL), just as it has at every opportunity since the FCC first proposed BPL back in 2003.
As you would expect from the name, BPL transmits broadband over the same lines that carry electric power along the street, siphoning off signals to houses and apartments along the way. Its proponents once hailed BPL as the “third wire” into the home for broadband service, the other two being the cable TV and telephone (or FIOS) connections. But in recent years BPL providers have scaled back their ambitions. Now they mostly help out electric utilities with internal communications for meter reading, load management, and the like. Few consumers receive their Internet service via BPL.
But ARRL has not scaled back its opposition.
Some BPL systems, as a by-product, generate radio signals on frequencies that overlap with the amateur radio bands. Everyone agrees that interference into amateur radio receivers is at least a theoretical possibility. But there is less agreement on how much interference BPL systems actually cause. The amateurs claim that a BPL system amounts to a city-sized antenna that blankets the amateur bands with interference. BPL providers counter that any interference comes from isolated equipment mounted on widely spaced power poles, and can be identified and adjusted if necessary.
The FCC rules on BPL include unprecedented protections for amateur radio, including a requirement that BPL operators turn down power on equipment that causes interference, and if necessary, turn it off completely. But the amateurs want more: they want BPL to reduce power in all amateur bands, all the time, by a factor of at least 300.
ARRL opposed the FCC’s initial Notice of Inquiry on BPL; it opposed the subsequent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; and it requested reconsideration of the initial rules. Unsatisfied with the FCC’s response, ARRL took the FCC to court, specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court sided with the FCC on the major issues, but told the FCC to take a second look at some of the technical findings. (More details on the case are here.) The FCC duly requested public comment on those technical findings, and agreed to some small adjustments to the rules.
“Well, that’s that,” said ARRL. “The court spoke; the FCC acted; and there’s nothing more to be gained.”
No, not really. What ARRL actually did say took up 53 pages of yet another Petition for Reconsideration, demanding once again that the FCC keep BPL out of the amateur bands. ARRL filed that petition back in December but the FCC, which by now must be thoroughly sick of the whole business, did not get around to putting it on public notice until June. The notice has been published in the Federal Register. Comments on ARRL’s latest petition are due by July 17, 2012; reply comments by July 27.
When the FCC responds to ARRL’s current petition, most likely a year or two from now, will that finally bring an end to the matter? Don’t count on it. So far it’s only been nine years. By Washington standards, we’re just getting started,
(Blogmeister Alert to Readers: FH&H represents a client in this proceeding.)