FCC Supports Broadband over Power Lines

The FCC confirms existing rules protecting BPL services, adds additional protections and signals the go-ahead for widespread deployment.

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission decided Aug. 3 to reaffirm its stance on the deployment of broadband-over-power-line technology. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order adopted by the FCC today, the commissioners affirmed that BPL providers have the right to provide data access using power transmission lines, provided they dont interfere with existing radio services.

By adpting this order, the FCC rejected requests by several groups, including the amateur radio community, the aviation industry and broadcasters, to either limit the service or to disallow it completely. However, the FCC did adopt provisions to protect some aeronautical stations and to protect radio astronomy sites from interference.

In the statements released by the commissioners, it was clear that the FCC sees BPL technology as a critical move in the effort to reduce the grip of the current broadband duopoly in the United States, and as a vital step toward serving areas of the United States that currently have no broadband access at all, including residents of rural and inner city areas.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said all of the commission members would like to see some non-duopoly pipes bring broadband access to hard-to-reach Americans. "This technology holds great promise as a ubiquitous broadband solution that would offer a viable alternative to cable, digital subscriber line, fiber and wireless broadband solutions," Martin said in his prepared statement.

"Moreover, BPL has unique advantages for home networking because consumers can simply plug a device into their existing electrical outlets to achieve broadband connectivity," he said.

Martin was joined in his hopeful comments by other commissioners. Commissioner Michael Copps said that the United States was already behind the game in the adoption of broadband, and he said that BPL might help solve the problem.

"You know something is wrong when the best-case scenario is that a consumer has a choice between two broadband connections, both of which are more expensive and considerably slower than what consumers in other industrialized nations enjoy," Copps said in his statement.

/zimages/4/28571.gifAre consumers bound to have problems with broadband? Click here to read more.

"If you want a quantitative sense of how bad things have gotten," Copps added, "consider this: Last year, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) listed us at 16th in the world in broadband penetration. Using the ITUs newer and more sophisticated Digital Opportunity Index, your country and mine is now ranked 21st in the world."

Copps also said the Congressional Research Service has said the broadband market is three times as concentrated as what the Department of Justice allows. "And this is not just some run of the mill product like a toaster or a lawnmower—it is the data pipe over which all future communications will run," he said.

Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said the commission struggled to balance protection of existing users of the wireless spectrum, and encouraging new services to grow.

"BPL is another regulatory question requiring us to balance regulatory humility with our oversight responsibilities," Tate said. "The FCC has and will continue to struggle with finding an appropriate balance between regulation to mitigate potential negative side effects that accompany BPL and a hands-off approach that gives BPL the room it needs to develop in a free market."

In another action, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comments on the rules for wireless licenses in the 700MHz band. The FCC plans to auction portions of this band in February, 2008.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...