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FCC Dealt Setback In BPL Push 177

Posted by kdawson
from the i-can't-hear-you-now dept.
SonicSpike writes in with word that an appeals court has dealt a setback to the FCC's plans to encourage broadband over power lines. The court ruled that the FCC erred when it withheld parts of the studies it had used in arriving at its position on BPL. The court did not rule that the FCC's decision was incorrect or that it should be revisited. According to the article, about 5,000 people nationwide subscribe to BPL in 35 pilot projects. We've been discussing BPL for years. "...a federal appeals court has sided in part with amateur radio operators who challenged rules designed to speed the nascent Internet service's rollout. When setting rules for BPL operators nearly two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission said it was trying to encourage deployment of a 'third pipe' to compete with cable and DSL services, while establishing limits aimed at protecting public safety, maritime, radio-astronomy, aeronautical navigation, and amateur radio operators from harmful interference. The American Radio Relay League, which represents amateur... radio operators, however, promptly sued the agency, contending that the FCC's approach was insufficient to ward off interference with its radios and inconsistent with its previous rules. On Friday, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia on Friday issued a ruling (PDF) that took issue with the way the FCC arrived at its rules."
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FCC Dealt Setback In BPL Push

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  • by SonicSpike (242293) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:06PM (#23926665) Homepage Journal

    No where in the US Constitution is the federal government allowed to regulate communications. If the federal government wants to regulate communications they should've proposed an amendment to the States

    And yes I am ham radio operator and the OP.

    • Commerce clause + necessary and proper clause?

      • by mixmatch (957776)
        I find it hard to argue that most transmissions governed by the FCC are for the purpose of commerce between the states, with foreign nations, and Indian tribes, especially those that are radio-based with a range under 20-30 miles.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SonicSpike (242293)

        The necessary and proper clause is NOT a grant of extra power. It simply means that Congress is authorized to do what is necessary and proper:

        "Congress shall have power... to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States,"

        And regulating communications is NOT listed in Article 1 Section 8 last time I checked.

        Commerce clause means "to make commerce regular" among the St

    • No where in the US Constitution is the federal government allowed to regulate communications. If the federal government wants to regulate communications they should've proposed an amendment to the States

      And yes I am ham radio operator and the OP.

      As a ham radio operator, you should be knowledgeable enough to realize that the entire radio spectrum would be unusable trash without regulation. Our hobby would be dead. Most of our equipment goes up to 50, 100, maybe 200 watts (if you have a really expensive rig) tops. How in the hell would you get your signal heard above all of the companies using huge swaths of the spectrum at high wattages simply because that's the only way they can be heard? Should all ham radio operators have to go out and spend thousands of dollars on many-kilowatt linear amplifiers just to penetrate the noise?

      And if you think amateur radio would be bad off, cell phones wouldn't even exist. Cell phones put out a puny 5 watts at max; there's no way you'd ever get through the noise with that.

      C'mon, think. The government is necessary for some purposes. Regulating and protecting a public resource like the radio spectrum is one of them.

      • No... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by msauve (701917)
        You're setting up a straw man - that is NOT what the OP said.

        Federal regulation is, quite simply, unconstitutional. It is not a power granted by the Constitution.

        State regulation of spectrum would be workable, and as proof I point to Europe where countries are the comparable in size to US States.

        And yes, I too am a ham (extra class).
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Those countries abide by the same treaty the US abides by. This international treaty calls for national goverments to regulate their radio emmissions in accordance with the agreed to spectrum allocation. By approving the treaty the US senate elevated thisrequirement to the "supreme law of the land" to quote the constitution's verbage on treaties. With a treaty in place, and with the comerce clause in hand, Congress was well with in the constitution when they created the FCC.

        • I don't agree (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @11:19PM (#23928559)

          I think the Commerce Clause doesn't have to stretch very far to cover radio communication that can go worldwide; that is, radio communication clearly influences interstate commerce, so I think the Constitution grants Congress the power to make law about it fair and square.

          I think you're wrong on the facts as well as the law. The only reason to let each state make its own regulations (assuming its not required by the Constitution, vide supra) is if they are going to regulate differently, because, e.g., the citizens of state X have different needs than citizens of state Y, or because X believes it has a better idea than Y and we want to let them all try their individual plans out, to see which is best (the "50 laboratories of democracy" concept).

          But even if that could be argued to make some kind of sense for VHF and UHF, it makes no sense at all for HF and AM, where signals easily cross many states. The states could not, in practise, make different regulations for those parts of the spectrum without chaos resulting. So if the state must, as a practical matter, all regulate in the same way, what's the point? Why not just have the Feds do it? Why have 50 wasteful duplicative efforts that must reach the same result?

          (And since we're signing our bona fides here, I have an Extra ticket, too.)

          • by gbobeck (926553)

            I may only be a General, but I agree with you.

            I also thought only the federal government could draft and/or ratify international treaties. (For example, the state of IL can't declare war on Canada, nor could it ratify the Kyoto protocols on its own as only the federal gov could do those actions...) Obviously radio is international as we are well aware.

            • "Only" a General? That makes you "only" smarter and more disciplined than about 98% of humanity. Stand tall.

              And, yep, you make a good point, that radio has significant international repercussions that if nothing else would demand the involvement of the Federal government. Even Thomas Jeffersion, that inveterate hater of Federal power, would have to agree.

              Go for the upgrade! See you on the bottom 25 kHz one of these days, huh?

              • by gbobeck (926553)

                Thanks :-)

                Actually, I am planning to resume studying for the extra exam after I finish grad school in August.

                73

          • by amper (33785)

            We're not "signing our bona fides here" unless we post our call signs, which can be verified online in a matter of seconds.

            If you indeed are an Extra Class Amateur Operator, I would expect that you would understand the difference between a mode (AM) and a band (VHF, UHF, HF). That is to say, I would expect that you would understand that AM can be used in any frequency band, and that AM travels approximately the same distance in any given frequency band as any other mode, such as CW, FM, SSB, or what have yo

            • Mike, I would be nuts to post my call on a forum accessible by any present or future flake, Google and its eternal cache being what it is, not to mention the existence of the FCC ULS site to which you refer, or qrz.com, et cetera, where such flakes can look up my home address. I don't mind giving it out to fellow hams, because they are a fairly trustworthy crowd, thanks (ahem) to the FCC hoops they have to jump through to get licensed, which helps to keep out riff-raff not truly interested in being part of

          • doesn't have to stretch at all. Wickard v. Filburn stretched it beyond measurement (or legitimacy).
            • Don't get me started. I'm saying the virgin Commerce Clause, before she was gang-raped by a concupiscent Congress at the shameful invitation of her nine pimps on the Supreme Court, could accomodate the FCC's purview comfortably.

      • by amper (33785)

        Actually, Amateur Radio operators are, for the most part, authorized to transmit at up to 1500 W, not 200 W, and if your have a "really expensive rig", you ought to be able to transmit at full legal power.

        Did you know that Amateur operators can use 802.11 at 1500W, provided that they do not use encryption? The 802.11 frequencies fall within the Amateur allocations, but using anything above Part 95 power levels requires that you comply with the Amateur rules, meaning that your transmissions cannot be encrypt

    • I agree too, but I disagree in that it will never happen as you would like.

      Our federal government likes too much control, and we have allowed it to continue. The only way to go back to states rights is to go before the civil war, and no militia from bumfuck is going to fight. It will come down to the states seceding from the union, as it did once before. I'd rather leave for somewhere nice, like Australia, Switzerland, or Japan before that crap happens. I want no part of that.

      Our federal government shouldnt

    • Keep on blowing that states-rights horn.

      The small-federal-government-big-state-government folks have been around for as long as the US has.

      It was tried. It didn't work. The US isn't divided culturally, economically, racially, etc... according to state borders. There's barely enough interest in the democratic process to keep the federal government going, let alone the states.

      Ron Paul's not a bad man, but you've got to realize why he voted against all of those things in your sig.... If it were the state of

  • !Data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gewalt (1200451) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:06PM (#23926667)
    My father in law lives in west bumfuck, farmland. They tried for years to get BPL working there. But the sad fact of reality is that powerlines just arent up to the task. His community sunk massive funds into that project and they only ever managed to serve like 10 customers. And it was slow. And they all left for some type of LoS wi-fi. (I know not the underlying tech that went in, but its several towers at the tops of hills, and he himself had to install a 4 story tower in his yard.) They have all been very pleased with their wi-fi. And it was much cheaper than the powerline nonsense.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by blindseer (891256)

      My parents live in east bumfuck, farmland while one of my brothers lives in south bumfuck, farmland and at both houses they have DSL. Satellite has been an option for a while now. Cell phone networks as well. Both are getting faster and cheaper as infrastructure is built up and competition sets in.

      BPL is a dead end. With the interference it produces along with the expense it just doesn't make sense.

  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:13PM (#23926725)
    BPL's interference can have detrimental effects well beyond the ham bands. They can take out local emergency comms if BPL interferance is high enough. For a visual example of whats going on here, check out this video [youtube.com]. It shows plainly the kind of interference BPL can cause.
    • Good video, thanks. Why aren't they using frequency hopping to mitigate interference?

      Also, why does BPL need to interfere on this frequency band? Isn't this tunable?

      • by jcgf (688310)

        Why aren't they using frequency hopping to mitigate interference?

        That is not as easy as you think with HF especially mobile because your antenna is cut to be used on a narrow range of frequencies. For example on 40m (about 7 megacycles) when I operated HF mobile, I would get about 100kc bandwidth at 2:1 SWR (7.050 - 7.150). Frequency hopping would not work at all for me.

        • I think I wasn't clear in my question (or didn't understand your answer). To be more precise: why don't the BPL operators use frequency hopping so they're not stepping on the Ham guys' range so drastically?

          • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @10:15PM (#23927873)

            He answered your question rather effectively.

            BPL uses a modulated carrier around 6 meter (~50 MHz). Our amateur licensed transmitters can transmit from 50MHz to 54MHz. And as we learn with radio, a transmitter is also a weak receiver and vice versa. I know that BPL uses a carrier in that band, but I am unsure of the exact frequency allocation.

            Because they use that carrier, the whole power grid turns into an antenna. That prevents us from using much of 6m. Along with that, if we use a linear amp (say 1kW) to poke out of the interference zone, which we are legally allowed to do, we inject our signal back in the power lines eliminating the broadband in BPL.

            And as a note, 6m is known to do atmospheric bounce for thousands of miles. I was at one Field day where we used a 1 watt transmitter and contacted someone in Rio de Janerio (sp?).

            • He answered your question rather effectively.

              BPL uses a modulated carrier around 6 meter

              Help me out then, because I must be really missing the concept. Isn't the point of frequency hopping spread spectrum that there is no carrier wave? Wouldn't eliminating the carrier wave greatly reduce the interference problem?

              I'm not disagreeing with your explanation of how BPL works at all or what the HAM issue is - I'm wondering why it needs to be designed that way in the first place.

              • by Detritus (11846)
                Frequency hopping does not eliminate the carrier wave, it just moves it around on a set schedule. Imagine you and a friend both had an FM radio with a digital tuner, and a computer that produced pseudo-random numbers between 88E6 and 108E6. You could use the computer to program the radio with a new frequency every second. As long as you kept the two computers synchronized with each other, both radios would shift to a new frequency every second. You are still using conventional FM to communicate. The only di
                • Right, but if the BPL were frequency hopping and the hams were on a fixed frequency wouldn't BPL sound like an occasional microsecond of static rather than a continuous source of interference?

                  Perhaps I'm greatly overestimating the amount of bandwidth we're talking about. I'm not suggesting that the BPL ought to interfere with ham operations, but it doesn't appear to do anything to mitigate the interference either. And I still don't understand why it has to operate on these frequencies.

            • Sorry, I didnt answer this either, but I know it intuitively from working on this stuff.

              We have simplex (talking on 1 channel). That is what BPL uses, as it stays in 1 spot on the frequency chart. X watts is emnated at this frequency. That means that specific frequency is essentially blasted out. Why? Modern receivers can receive signals as low as a nanowatt, along with major noise reduction equipment and finely tuned band-pass filters.

              0000/\0000
              ___/--\___

              Is what it looks like. One swath is cut out. Now, if

      • by colfer (619105)

        Don't think it's tunable. They try to "notch out" the ham and other frequencies so as not to interfere. Not clear if it's working. The whole electric line becomes an antenna.

        I live in one the three "deploying" areas on this map: http://www.bpl.coop/deploymentmap.php [bpl.coop] and I can tell you the thing is so many years behind schedule that the local power company (co-op actually) has removed all updates from its website. Previously it said it was deployed at one substation so far, which would mean a few hundred

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by colfer (619105)

          Ironically, radio interference played a role in the biggest natural disaster in this area (I am replying to my own post). In 1969 the largest hurricane in US history [wikipedia.org] jumped 800 miles inland and killed 157 people here in the mountains. Emergency response was hampered by a radio silence zone established to protect the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory several counties away in West Virginia.

      • Why aren't they using frequency hopping to mitigate interference?

        Why should they have to?

        • Never mind, I thought you were talking about the amateur radio operators, rather than the BPL operators.

    • by Eil (82413) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:50PM (#23927147) Homepage Journal

      I usually don't read YouTube comments because they tend to be racist, trollish, or just plain inflammatory in general. But the first one underneath the video is priceless:

      "I think the most disturbing part of this entire video is that every vehicle shown in motion is driving on the wrong side of the road. BPL seems like a minor issue in comparison."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      How would it interfere with emergency services?

      BPL carriers are in the 10-30 MHz range, and public safety is typically in the 800 MHz band.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by atomicthumbs (824207)
        Correction: trunked (frequency hopping) public safety is in the 800MHZ band (usually). Many fire departments, police departments and the like haven't bought or don't use (for whatever reason) trunking systems. The sherrif's dispatch where I live is 47.9 MHZ.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DMUTPeregrine (612791)
          Also, one of my neighbours is a ham. He and many other hams use their radios to aid emergency services when normal communication lines are down. In the recent San Diego fires he relayed calls for the fire department in the area, since their systems couldn't handle the load. If BPL interferes with Ham radio, it interferes with emergency services.
  • by LM741N (258038) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:20PM (#23926811)

    BPL is just one of a thousand different devices that pollute the HF and VHF spectrum. Computers, laptops, touchlamps, plasma TV's (are the worst). Just about any device that uses high speed digital circuitry or switch mode power supplies. In computers, spread spectrum clocks are used to get pass FCC emission requirements, but if you live in a dense neighborhood where people leave their computers on 24/7, that doesn't help much.

    • by jcgf (688310)

      BPL is just one of a thousand different devices that pollute the HF and VHF spectrum. Computers, laptops, touchlamps, plasma TV's (are the worst).

      BPL is the only one that has a huge ass antenna to radiate the RFI with (ie the lines themselves). I can deal with all of the other things you have mentioned. They are either easy to shield if they are mine or they belong to a neighbor and are too far away and sometimes they're even in a stucco house where the wire mesh for the stucco blocks out most anything from getting to me.

      • by LM741N (258038)

        Actually all of those mentioned devices have large antennas to radiate with- ie the line from your house to the pole transformer. If you live in the city like here, one transformer is used by a number of houses. So the net affect is similar to BPL. In order to cut costs, most manufacturers use as little filtering on these consumer devices as they can get away with. Some things, like light dimmers have no filtering at all. The AC line safety ground does little to shunt out the noise as its designed for

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by turbinewind (667970)
      ....is just one of a thousand different devices..

      Except totally different. The longstanding regulations that govern the shared radio spectrum have been based on solid understandings of the nature of radio propagation. This new, radically different approach by the FCC, essentially ramming BPL into the radio service while ignoring the consequences and research (including their own) is a new, brief innovation.

      I just doesn't work with the rest of the radio services. Only the tech-impaired politico lawy
  • FCC sucks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrsteveman1 (1010381) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:29PM (#23926887)

    Perhaps if they would get off their ass and do something about the non-competition in the market they wouldn't be having to go out of their way to find poor solutions.

    Competition between classes isn't competition.

    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      Just ran out of mod points but I'm not sure why your point hasn't been brought up before. Putting the hurt on the phone companies would be the ideal solution.
  • The court did mandate that the FCC conduct a new comment period, with the entire content of the studies they relied on entered into the record, and that they either explain their total rejection of one interference measurement parameter that they solicited comments on, or ellse adopt a different one and explain that. ...de K5ZC

  • This was a good decision by the US Appeals Court. I'm an amateur radio operator myself (there's over 700,000 of us in the United States alone), and it wouldn't make any sense to severely degrade our performance for the benefit of only 5,000 people. Remember, amateur radio isn't merely a hobby: it's been proven useful time and time again in severe emergencies when the communications infrastructure goes down and no one else can get a signal through.

    And even if you make the argument that the number of BPL customers will go above 700,000 at some point in the future, it's still not worth it. There's only one radio spectrum, but there's a large variety of ways to get data into households, the rest of which do not pollute the radio spectrum. There's simply no excuse for trying to send data along entirely unshielded power lines. They weren't designed for this purpose and they leak RF like mad. You want to get people access to broadband? Send the data through shielded cables — oh wait, that's what we already do for millions of people!

  • BPL is bad news (Score:4, Informative)

    by 40ohms (528261) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:09PM (#23927277)
    This is actually a good thing. The FCC was trying to push a technology that does not work well, interferes with others, and costs much more than some other ways of getting connectivity. Even if the Amateur bands can be notched out, the other frequencies suffer. There are a lot of other communications in the range of frequencies that BPL wipes out. The FCC needs to rethink their stance and pay attention to the laws of physics. If BPL is allowed to exist I believe there will be a time in the future we will regret the down side of this technology. In the places it is being used now there are a number of interference problems that keep different services either off the air, or make the use of that spectrum damn near impossible. There is also another side to the story. Licensed equipment transmitting in close proximity to a BPL system can shut down the BPL connection. The bottom line is BPL should never have been adopted. There are better, more effective and less costly ways of getting connectivity without polluting the HF spectrum.
  • CQ CQ CQ, N3XMQ anyone out there? How copy?

    • N3XMQ DE KC9JEF slashdot QRM K

      • Shouldn't it be SK?

      • Does anyone else think it's silly to use Q signals on radiotelephone, and for that matter on TCP/IP with its full error correction and ample bandwidth? I don't live in a QTH, it's a house. And instead of QSY, "would you please change frequency" sounds a lot clearer. It makes sense to use them on Morse Code transmissions, and with people who don't understand the same language.

        Bruce K6BP

        • by Skapare (16644)

          Yes, it is silly. That's why it's so much fun :-)

          K6BP DE KA9WGN

        • by DF5JT (589002)

          Aaaah, the No-Coder speaks -)

          But I agree, in regular communications, Q-Codes and other abbreviations are nonsense, but unlike you, I actually do morse code and use all those Q-Codes and abbreviations as part of making communications on the band easier.

          73/161 de DF5JT

        • Of course. If people start using Q codes on simplex or a repeater, you're going to get funny looks and a lot of "whats that in english?", even with the best of hams.

          Now, if we're talking about a moonbounce signal using 2m and transmitting on only 30Hz of bandwidth, then there's no voice for you. You had better have some shorthand system. That's where Q codes work. They also work rather well on the very low HF bands... One can hear the cw chirps over the static.

    • by gbobeck (926553)

      N3XMQ DE W9QNY QSN slashdot K

  • IANAEE, so please if any of you are, I hope you can enlighten me here.

    I'm just guessing, but BPL would require some sort of low-power modulation on the circuit, right ? Wouldn't that potentially cause added strain on electrical components ? I'm basing this on the vicious damage caused by DC ripples to computer equipment... my limited electrical knowledge tells me the broadband signal would appear as voltage noise to anything plugged on the same circuit, which means more wasted current, thus more heat. Gi

  • We are talking about the 10-30 MHz spectrum, i.e. shortwave. Shortwaves have the unique capability of being reflected from the ionosphere, the very effect that made international communication possible on these frequencies. A faulty BPL installation in West Bumfuck, FarmLand can easily be heard all over bands all over the world given the right time.

    While we are in the absolute minimum of the sunpot cycle these days, in another 2 or three years it will again be easy to communicate internationally with a coup

  • The power lines of rural America are, in general, even worse than the awful phone and cable TV lines that were preventing customers there from having more traditional broadband service.

    It shouldn't surprise anybody that a power infrastructure built to meet specs of '60Hz more or less, somewhere between 100 and 130VAC hopefully' would be under-engineered for reliable data transmission.

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