Stop Broadband Over Power Line Before It's Too Late


Well-Known Member
I don't know if my colleague Peter Coffee is a radio amateur or not, but his column talking about the “slow-motion train wreck” that is Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) is right on target and expresses the concerns of radio users both amateur and professional.
Here's the deal: The electric power industry and the anything-for-a-buck FCC are smitten with the idea that people should get broadband Internet service over power lines. And not just the power lines in your house, but all the power lines leading to your house.
The lunacy of this should be obvious: Sending radio signals (the Internet connections) over metallic conductors (the power lines) is the same as hooking a radio transmitter up to an antenna. That the result will be radio signals transmitted off the power lines to nearby and not-so-nearby radio receivers is simple physics. And, sure 'nuff the proponents admit--though only after critical studies proved it--that BPL will cause radio interference.
The issue now before the cheerleader FCC (with Bush Administration backing) his how much interference is acceptable. Since the BPL advocates can't really say how much interference they will create, it's hard to decide how to regulate BPL interference. And one thing is sure: The FCC rarely toughens existing rules, so BPL interference needs to be tightly regulated up front and loosened if doing so makes sense later.
Of course, America doesn't really need BPL to get the Internet into people's homes and businesses. Broadband is happening and will happen without the noise and interference BPL will create.
In a sense, this is really an environmental protection issue. BPL will pollute the radio spectrum in ways we don't yet fully understand, cause damage we can't yet quantify, and create benefits that probably aren't really needed and problems that will be hard to fix later on.
As someone who cares about the radio spectrum and wants to see it used to maximum benefit, I am very concerned about BPL. It's not just that BPL will likely hurt--maybe even make impossible in some places--ham radio and shortwave reception, it's that the benefit of doing is so slight. How many broadband providers and technologies do I really need? I already have three or four to choose from. (DSL, cable, microwave, and satellite).
On the back of my VW is a license plate frame that says, “When All Else Fails.“ The plate itself has my ham radio call sign, N5FDL. Both are a reminder of amateur radio's historic role of providing communications when nothing else works. And that isn't Cold War/Dr. Strangelove propaganda.
Just a few months ago my search-and-rescue team turned to ham radio frequencies when our sheriff's department radio system failed in the middle of a search. The subject--a man with Alzheimer's--was found safely in part because of the communications ham radio provided. Now think Homeland Security and you get the importance of having a citizen-provided back-up radio system.
Over the July 4th holiday, I was part of a fire patrol organized by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that used ham radio. I could go on but you, hopefully, get the idea.
Parts of the government concerned with emergency communications are also fearful of BPL, but their opposition hasn't gotten very far. Indeed, BPL is sliding through the regulatory process as though it's on greased rails. But the final decision hasn't been made and there is still hope the FCC will decide to take a slow approach on implementation and give everyone a chance to discover what BPL is really all about before serious damage is done.