Andre Kesteloot andre.kesteloot at verizon.net
Sat Feb 3 09:09:39 CST 2007

The ARRL Letter
Vol. 26, No. 05
February 2, 2007


The ARRL this week took FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin to task for telling the
US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that broadband
over power line (BPL) technology is the answer to broadband deployment in
rural areas. Martin and the other four FCC commissioners testified February
1 during a committee hearing, "Assessing the Communications Marketplace: A
View from the FCC." In his prepared remarks, the chairman described BPL as a
"potentially significant player due to power lines' ubiquitous reach,
allowing it to more easily provide broadband to rural areas." ARRL Chief
Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, criticized Martin for repeating
"specious BPL industry claims" that suggest BPL has anything to offer rural

"The assertion that BPL can 'more easily provide broadband to rural areas'
is one of the big lies about BPL," Sumner said. "It has been debunked time
and time again, and it is beyond comprehension to hear it parroted by the
federal government's senior telecommunications regulator at this late date."

Martin's remarks, Sumner added, "should demonstrate to the committee why
legislation is needed to force the FCC to use technical studies, rather than
outdated industry propaganda and wishful thinking, as the basis for making
BPL-related decisions."

Martin cited United Power Line Council (UPLC) "reports" that there are now
at least 38 trial BPL deployments plus 7 commercial trials, apparently
deriving his figures by counting the dots on a UPLC map, since updated. The
most recent edition, dated January 19, appears to indicate just 25 BPL
trials, but that list includes some systems that do not appear in the BPL
industry database. The map also shows 9 commercial deployments, including
one in Pennsylvania believed to have been shut down.

The FCC's "High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30,
2006" report -- the most recent available -- shows that the number of
high-speed "lines" grew by nearly 13.5 million in the first six months of
last year. Of that number, nearly 640 were listed as "power line and other,"
an increase of some 14 percent in that category but about half the overall
growth in high-speed services.

"These latest FCC figures underscore just how far out of touch the
Commission itself is with marketplace reality," Sumner remarked. "How much
longer will the Commission continue to tout BPL as a viable consumer
broadband option in the face of its own contrary data?" 

In joint comments to the FCC in 2003 on the then-pending BPL rule making
proceeding, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and the
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) cited studies
indicating BPL would "not be a viable solution for most Americans in truly
rural areas any time soon."

"To date, no BPL system has been demonstrated to work, much less been
commercially deployed, on a long, sparsely populated rural electric power
line," the NRTC/NRECA comments said. "Even if BPL technology proves to be
reliable and does not cause unacceptable radio frequency interference in
rural deployment, the economics will likely be prohibitive for some time to
come. This is because signal repeaters or regenerators will be required at
intervals as small as one-fourth to three-fourths of a mile along lengthy
rural power lines" in addition to the numerous and necessary network access
points and backhaul lines. 

More recently, the NRTC last fall cited studies by Chartwell Inc, a research
company specializing in electric power topics, that found only 5 percent of
utilities were moving ahead with BPL projects while 13 percent were planning
or "considering" them. On the other hand, two utilities with more than a
million customers between them reported discontinued existing BPL programs,
according to a Chartwell member newsletter.

The League has suggested that potential investors in rural broadband
delivery would be better off considering wireless LAN or satellite
technology as more promising possibilities.

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