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Broadband Over Powerline (BPL) Stumbles
FCC gets a wrist slap, industry's largest deployment sold...
by Karl Bode 09:19AM Friday May 02 2008
While the FCC once called broadband over power lines (BPL) the "great broadband hope," the technology has been stuck in neutral, thanks largely to its tendency to interfere with local wireless transmissions, and the fact that many utilities don't want to get into the broadband business. Things have only gotten worse for the struggling sector the last two weeks.

Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit released a decision (pdf) showing the FCC may have been over-enthusiastic in their recommendation of the technology as a broadband-industry cure-all. Eager to bring something vaguely representing competition to a duopoly market they created, the FCC rushed through rules at the behest of BPL vendors -- seemingly ignoring interference data for the industry's benefit.

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While the FCC had their wrist slapped for ignoring proper protocols and procedures, they did win on one point: the court maintained their right to allow unlicensed devices to interfere with licensed spectrum. As existing laws are written, if a BPL deployment interferes with local emergency service communications, the impacted party has little recourse. So while hams won a battle, the FCC still left a mess in its wake.

This week finds the industry's flagship BPL deployment in Dallas, supported by DirecTV and frequently cited as an example of the technology's successes, being sold to the local utility. The network, through which DirecTV and Current Communications hoped to offer BPL service to 2 million residents, will now simply be used for smart-electrical grid monitoring. From the Dallas Morning News:
DirecTV has used Current's network to sell broadband over power lines to customers in the first 64,000 homes to be wired for the service. The plan had been to expand the DirecTV service area – and increase the number of BPL retailers – as Current attached networking equipment to more power transformers and expanded the smart grid across the region.
You can't say we didn't warn you. BPL is a niche solution with problems, not a third major competitive pipe.

topics flat nest 

Rockville, MD
·Verizon FiOS

who'd a guessed?

...showing the FCC may have been over-enthusiastic in their recommendation of the technology as a broadband-industry cure-all.

judge could have saved some time and just asked us - we've known for quite a while BPL has been a feeble attempt at broadband, mainly pushed by the FCC to show there is "competition".

Banks, OR

Re: who'd a guessed?

said by nasadude:

we've known for quite a while BPL has been a feeble attempt at broadband, mainly pushed by the FCC to show there is "competition".
Yes the broadband business case for BPL has always been questionable. But the free-market ideologues at the FCC have needed it to counter requirements that Congress put in the 1996 Telecom Act. According to the Act, if the FCC were to determine that broadband deployment and competition was not happening in a timely manner, the FCC is required to "take drastic action". And drastic action by the grovernment is not something the market-forces-solve-all-problems, market-failure-never-happens-anymore ideologues in the FCC want to do.



Re: who'd a guessed?


Are you ever going to produce a quote to support your repeated claim that ARRL is totally against all Part 15 devices?

Banks, OR

Re: who'd a guessed?

I've done that a few times here in the past.

Their argument is that Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934 (the law that created the FCC), prohibits the FCC from permitting unlicensed operation of any kind. The FCC maintains that the Section only applies to signals that can be detected across state lines (interstate "commerce"). The ARRL maintains it applies to all unlicensed operation.



Re: who'd a guessed?

Please quote where they have made that argument. Since you say they made it, it should be easy to find. I'll make it even easier for you by linking to relevant ARRL articles:




said by PDXPLT:

I've done that a few times here in the past.
Perhaps you're referring to this post back in 2006:

»Re: not quite

You're wrong because you're leaving out text later in the paragraph:

"ARRL has urged that the Section 301 licensing requirement is, on its face absolute, and that unlicensed devices can be authorized only if it can be found that the operating parameters proposed for a given Part 15 device are such that the devices, individually and in the aggregate, will have no substantial interference potential to licensed radio services"

ARRL is clearly arguing that devices can be authorized under Part 15 only if they won't have significant interference potential to licensed services, not for abolishment of Part 15 devices as you have been claiming.

Burlington, CT

Re: who'd a guessed?

ARRL has worked cooperatively and productively with most of the unlicensed noise sources. The premise that it is against all Part 15 devices is inaccurate and not at all supported by the evidence at hand.

There is no doubt that locally, if Part 15 devices emit at the level of the Part 15 rules, local interference will result. To avoid interference, it is essential that any Part 15 device avoid the use of spectrum that is in operation near it. Unlicensed devices should not use spectrum that is in common use in residential neighborhood. This includes Amateur Radio, but it also includes broadcast television, cellular telephones and a number of other spectrum in which unlicensed devices should not have significant emissions. I would imagine that all who use cell phones would take the position that unlicensed devices should not use "their" band.

ARRL has taken the position that unlicensed devices should not intentionally generate signals at the FCC limits in the licensed Amateur bands. Part 15 rules control interference two ways: the rules set emissions limits that limit the geographical area over which interference is likely. The rules also require that if harmful interference occurs, the operator of the device must correct the interference.

ARRL's position has been that rules and levels should be sufficient to reduce the number of interference to a small-enough number of occurences that it is practical to address inteference that does happen on a case-by-case basis. See »www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=ar···basis%22.

That doesn't look like ARRL being opposed to all BPL to me. ARRL has also not sougth to change the rules for devices with a more reasonable interference potential than BPL. Many unlicensed devices, such as the computer I am using to type this message, generate radio noise. These devices have an interference footprint only near the premise in which they are installed. They are not on all the time. They do not emit on all frequencies. Although they occasionally do make noise in the Amateur bands, most do not cause harmful interference, and the few that do can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Contrast that to a device that operates on overhead power lines, with an interference footprint for long distances along that line, with a spectrum occupancy that is not just found on a few spot frequencies, but that fully fills large swaths of spectrum, operates continuously and may be built as big as an entire state. The premise that ARRL's using this as the worst example of why Part 15 should not regulate devices that have a significant potential for interference proves that ARRL is opposed to all Part 15 devices is ridiculous.

ARRL has worked with the BPL industry. It worked with HomePlug on in-premise BPL before access BPL was even a dream. Http://p1k.arrl.org/~ehare/bpl/HomePlug_ARRL.pdf. It worked with Motorola on BPL that was well designed to not cause interference to Amateur Radio. ARRL staff have presented at industry events and told the participants that with millions of HomePlug devices deployed, ARRL has no reports of interference to Amateur Radio involving HomePlug device. It worked with Current Technologies, with ARRL staff being quoted in ARRL and lay publications as saying that Current systems have deployed without major interference problems.

ARRL worked directly with DS2, a BPL chipset manufacturer, to help test its improvements to notching technology. ARRL staff have reported that in carefully installed systems, the notching was effective in addressing interference.

ARRL has worked with the Home Phone Networking Alliance and the VDSL industries to help it plan industry specifications that have been successful at preventing major interference problems. ARRL maintains contact with many industries to help prevent interference problems. It occupies seats on major IEEE and ANSI-accredited EMC standards committees, sometimes in positions of elected leadership.

Those that claim that ARRL is opposed to all unlicensed operation have simply not done enough research into what ARRL has done to work effectively, cooperatively and productively with the unlicensed emitter industry.

These models work. Avoiding locally used spectrum with sufficient filtering can and does avoid EMC problems. Good rules and industry standards are needed to reflect these successful models. The FCC did not do this industry any favors by giving it a poor set of rules. A good set of rules, such as was given to cable TV, will help this industry find its success.

I once asked on of the Board of Directors of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers what success the cable industry would have had if the FCC had given it a set of rules as poor as the BPL rules. He replied that they would have 12 analog channels and they wouldn't work that well. He had just given a presentation on what the cable industry had to do to improve the cable system to make it sheilded well enough and noise-free enough to let it reliably carry broadband.

Ed Hare, W1RFI@arrl.org
Laboratory Manager
225 Main St
Newington, CT 06111
Tel: 860-594-0318


Glen Head, NY

Emergency Services

As existing laws are written, if a BPL deployment interferes with local emergency service communications, the impacted party has little recourse. So while hams won a battle, the FCC still left a mess in its wake.
While hams were on the forefront of the fight, this was an issue that was often overlooked. Fire and police departments operating in the 30 to 50MHz band were just as susceptible to BPL interference as hams. A police cruiser in the outer fringes of their radio coverage area could just as easily have had their ability to receive HQ wiped out as a ham trying to monitor a weak signal. The only problem was the FCC disregarded the emergency service's comments just like the ARRL's.
I support the right to keep and arm bears.

Glen Burnie, MD

BPL is all but dead

It will not be the glorified "third pipe" as it will never be fast enough nor provide the ROI that the power companies wanted.

Let's add that it only takes one incident where their interference caused a problem and the public backlash will cause a LOT of grief. The power companies are already being blamed for high energy prices so more bad PR will not help their cause.

1 recommendation

Here we go again

Look, guys. BPL ain't ever gonna happen. This just another adventure in the silly "wireless cable" type chase of venture capital.

It is an unnatural physical relationship to begin with, and well, power companies aren't suited to it, and the equipment will self-destruct.

We don't need it as a last-mile alternative. We just need copper to be regulated as its own entity apart from the iLECs.



A Clarification

"the court maintained their right to allow unlicensed devices to interfere with licensed spectrum"

This applies when the BPL carrier attenuates their signal 20 dB below the emission limit for signals below 30 Mhz, and 10 dB below the limit for systems above 30 Mhz.

Here's the language in Title 47 Part 15.611(c):

(i) For frequencies below 30 MHz, when a notch filter is used to avoid interference to a specific frequency band, the Access BPL system shall be capable of attenuating emissions within that band to a level at least 20 dB below the applicable part 15 limits.

(ii) For frequencies above 30 MHz, when a notch filter is used to avoid interference to a specific frequency band, the Access BPL system shall be capable of attenuating emissions within that band to a level at least 10 dB below the applicable part 15 limits.

(iii) At locations where an Access BPL operator attenuates radiated emissions from its operations in accordance with the above required capabilities, we will not require that operator to take further actions to resolve complaints of harmful interference to mobile operations.

Paragraph (iii) is the problem. The level of emissions at the limits can easily cause interference; the limits were never set to entirely prevent interference, just provide a reasonable target for consumer electronics. The FCC has acknowledged this before, and the limits in the US are looser than European ones. 10 dB and 20 dB below the limit is better, but still can cause problems. The FCC is basically telling the carriers that they can emit whatever they want 10 or 20 dB below the emissions limit and the harmful interference clause is null and void. It's a bad situation as the whole basis for unlicensed operation of any device has been no harmful interference to licensed devices.

Burlington, CT

Re: A Clarification

As a clarification to the clarification, the rule being discussed applies only to interference to mobile receivers. It does not apply to interference to licensed non-mobile operation.

Ed Hare, W1RFI

Don't Blame Me I Voted For Bill and Opus

Cheyenne, WY

Death by No Moola

I think the way things are going is the right way to get rid of BPL death by economics. If you can't make any money with it it will die, and there can't be anyone who can make the argument that BPL was not given a chance.
Send a prayer to Allah, eat Beans.


Creston, WV


I think we have too many wires going to our house anyways.

I rather have power line then phone line, fios, cable, dish.



which one first?

which one will we get first?:

hydrogen cars in mass production
broadband over powerline

Worcester, MA

Re: which one first?

i don't know, but my guess would be hydrogen cars...

one thing that hydrogen cars has going for it is that the well established equivalent (gas cars) is that the supply of gas will probably force hydrogen cars to be cheaper, thus an economic incentive. when looking at BPL vs well established equivalent (cable, dsl, fiber in places, and rarer wifi or wimax), i don't see what BPL has going for it. there are interference issues, lesser theoretical capacity compared to fiber, coax, and possibly twisted pair phoneline, what BPL will be competing against is already well established for the most part (dsl and cable and soon (wishful thinking) to be fiber). i'd say BPL is at best an interm solution for locations very rural areas.

Layton, UT

I know this is late, but notice who and why bought the HW?

According to the Dallas Morning News (who is in the same area), the hardware was bought by the owners of the power poles, Oncor. And a quote from Chris Schein, a spokesman for Oncor: "Oncor is not in the telecommunications business, and it has no plans to get into the telecommunications business".

They want to use it for ----- Monitoring your power usage and other items on the grid. I wonder if Oncor had any relationship with Current Communications. After all some of us have said that would be the mostly likely outcome of all that investment $$.
I am not lost, I find myself every time.

Rowlett, TX

Down with BPL

I'm with you guys. We should all work overtime to ensure NO COMPETITION to the current choices for broadband internet. I guess we're all VPs at a big telecom company. Good to know I'm not the only one who thinks our current woefully underpowered, spotty, and unreliable cellular telephone networks and horribly overpriced broadband offerings should be legislated as the only game in town.

Down with BPL! Down with competition!

PS, anyone who thinks our cellular phone systems are the end-all solution should take a short trip over to Europe where true competition exists. Wait! No don't; you might begin to disagree with my first paragraph if you open your eyes and minds.