FCC Boosts BPL, Irking Amateur Radio Operators

FCC has given a nod to broadband over power lines, but some early reaction from some ham operators is not so positive.

August 4, 2006

2 Min Read
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The Federal Communications Commission issued an order Thursday endorsing broadband over power lines (BPL.) The Memorandum Opinion and Order stated the FCC would also maintain safeguards against interference, but early reaction from some ham operators questioned whether the FCC action will be effective in sorting out interference issues.

The memo specifically "denies the request by the amateur radio community to prohibit BPL operations pending further study and to exclude BPL from frequencies used for amateur radio operations." The most vigorous opposition to BPL has come from ham operators, who claim BPL interferes with ham radio spectrum.

Noting that Thursday's memo generally reaffirms of the BPL rules it established in October 2004, the FCC said it will take "appropriate action" if harmful interference occurs.

"In my opinion, the FCC didn't say much of anything in the memo," said George Tarnovsky, a ham radio operator in Manassas, Va. "We've been complaining for four years now and everything is still up in the air." Tarnovsky is an official of the Ole Virginia Hams, an amateur radio club with more than 100 members.

The early battleground for BPL is being fought in Manassas, which inaugurated a citywide BPL deployment last October.BPL provider Communications Technologies (COMTek) maintains the Manassas installation will be a model for BLP, which it envisions as providing competition to cable broadband and DSL.Slow to get traction, BPL has recently been gaining momentum. However, opposition from different interests claiming interference issues has slowed down deployments.

In addition to rejecting complaints from ham operators, the FCC also denied a request by the television industry to outlaw BPL from certain frequencies. In addition the aeronautical industry can't exclude BPL from some low voltage lines. The FCC also issued new measures for radio astronomy stations.

But hams are likely to keep fighting BPL. Tarnovsky said he regularly uses his spectrum analyzer to test interference in the Manassas area. "Saturday mornings when the most people are on is the worst," he said. "I can't operate " period."

The National Association for Amateur Radio has also complained that the COMTek BPL deployment interferes with ham transmissions.

Another amateur radio enthusiast in Virginia, Woody Thompson, takes a more hopeful approach. Thomson talked up the contribution of ham radio operators in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. "I think the FCC has finally realized they have to protect this spectrum," Thomson said.In its latest memo on the subject, the FCC indicated it will try to resolve interference issues as they arise. FCC officials were not immediately available for comment.

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