The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday cleared the way for power companies to roll out broadband over power line service by approving a set of rules designed to limit interference to other radio frequency devices such as amateur radios.
The FCC's action on broadband over powerlines, often called BPL, requires providers of the alternative to cable modem or DSL (digital subscriber line) service to employ devices that can switch frequencies if they cause interference and that can be shut down remotely.
Commissioners, who praised BPL as a broadband competitor that will bring prices down and spur new services, also will require a national database of BPL installations so that public safety agencies, amateur radio operators and others concerned over potential interference.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell acknowledged concerns from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and other ham radio operators, but he called the FCC's adoption of the BPL rules a "historic day" for the future of U.S. broadband services. Powell called amateur radio an "important resource" in the U.S. communication system and promised that the FCC would pay attention to interference issues going forward.
"We'll continue to be vigilant, and we've put the tools in place," he said. "But let me underscore that the potential for America and the American economy is too great, too enormous, too potentially groundbreaking to sit idly by and allow any claim of any possible technical fear to keep us from ... the drive into America's broadband future."
But Commissioner Michael Copps questioned if the rules will keep the FCC as involved as it could be in refereeing interference complaints.
"I take the concerns of (the amateur radio) community very seriously, and believe that the FCC has an obligation to work hard to monitor, investigate, and take quick action where appropriate to resolve harmful interference," Copps said. "If an amateur radio user makes a complaint and an agreement between the BPL provider and the amateur radio user cannot be reached, the FCC should step in and resolve the matter."
Copps also criticized other commissioners for not dealing with other issues, including 911 service, access for disabled people and whether electricity customers should subsidize BPL roll outs in these rules. But he also said he supports the roll out of BPL as a new option for U.S. consumers.
"I think we all agree that a wide deployment of BPL would benefit broadband consumers," he said. "This is a market desperate for more competition."
An ARRL spokesman said Thursday it was too early to comment on the FCC rules because the group had not yet seen detailed descriptions of the rules. "Some part of it looked very interesting, some parts we were unsure about," said Allen Pitts, media and public relations manager for ARRL.
ARRL continues to question BPL's effect on amateur radio signals, Pitts said. "We will always be concerned about the pollution of the ... spectrum," he said.
Officials from Current Communications Group LLC, which has partnered with Cinergy Corp. to provide BPL in parts of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, said the FCC decision may open up more power companies to using BPL. Among the benefits of BPL is that the devices monitor electrical blackouts, and power companies can pinpoint outages without relying on customers to call and complain.