WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved rules today clearing the way for commercial deployment of broadband over power lines (BPL). The decision classifies BPL as an unlicensed service with the rules primarily aimed at limiting interference with licensed radio services.
Broadband transmissions over electric power lines are not shielded to prevent radio interference in the same manner as telephone and cable lines. They can cause interference with certain radio frequencies. Amateur radio operators, in particular, have opposed BPL.
The rules impose new technical requirements on BPL equipment and establish "excluded frequency bands" that BPL must entirely avoid to protect aeronautical and aircraft communications.
In addition, "exclusion zones" are established in locations near sensitive operations, such as coast guard stations, where BPL must avoid operating on some frequencies. The rules also require power companies to consult with public safety agencies and federal government radio installations before deploying the technology through their power grids.
Amateur radio operators received no exclusions, but the rules require the establishment of a publicly available BPL notification database to help identify and resolve harmful interference claims.
"The [electricity] penetration rate probably exceeds that of telephone systems and cable systems. More amazingly, it reaches every outlet of every home," FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said.
Pat Wood, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman, issued a statement saying, "This technology holds tremendous potential, not just in providing new avenues for communications services, but in helping electricity systems operate more efficiently and reliably."
The nascent technology is already being used in Manassas, Va., and Cincinnati, Ohio, and more than 40 trials are under way throughout the country. With today's FCC approval, power companies are expected to step up efforts to provide a broadband alternative to cable modems and DSL.
"We talk so often about competition," Powell said. "Well here it is. All economists will tell you that magic happens when you find a third way.
"Just a few short years ago, critics argued that competition for the 'last mile' would never become a reality, because no one could duplicate or bypass the telephone line that ran from the curb into the home," Powell added. "BPL provides us with a potential new competitor in the broadband market."
While saying the broadband market is desperate for more competition, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps said he was disappointed that the decision "dodges the hardest BPL questions; issues such as universal service, disabilities access, E911, pole attachments, competition protections, and, critically, how to handle the potential for cross-subsidization between regulated power businesses and unregulated communications businesses remain up in the air."
Copps asked, "Is it right to allow electricity rate players to pay higher bills every month to subsidize an electric company's foray into broadband?"
FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell, who, along with Wood, attended the FCC meeting, praised BPL as the vanguard of new technologies that will ride over the nation's power grid.
"The vast majority of today's power system features technology that reached its zenith 50 years ago. Broadband over power line services will empower customers while improving grid reliability and security," Brownell said. "It illustrates how investing in our electricity delivery system will deliver tangible customer and economic benefits."