andre kesteloot andre.kesteloot at verizon.net
Sat Apr 4 07:55:17 CDT 2009


On March 10, 2009, the FCC invited comments via a Public Notice
concerning the establishment of a comprehensive rural broadband strategy
as part of the Department of Agriculture's Food, Conservation and Energy
Act of 2008, commonly known as the 2008 Farm Bill. Per the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), Congress required
the FCC to develop a "comprehensive national broadband plan." According
to the FCC, they, Congress, and the Secretary of Agriculture "have
repeatedly recognized the importance of ensuring access to advanced
telecommunications and information services to all Americans, with a
special focus on rural and hard-to-serve areas." The proceeding provided
an opportunity for the ARRL to express its concerns about broadband over
power lines (BPL) <http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/HTML/plc/> that the FCC
has yet to satisfactorily address.

In the comments submitted by ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD
df>, the ARRL reaffirms its support of broadband opportunities in rural
areas. "ARRL is in agreement that broadband is critical to the health of
agricultural and other businesses, and to the educational interests of
Americans who live in rural areas," Imlay stated. Imlay commended the
FCC in looking for broadband solutions on both the short and long term,
as well as identifying how Federal programs "might overcome obstacles
that currently impede rural broadband development."

Imlay pointed out that while the FCC and various power utilities have
touted BPL as a promising means of providing rural broadband service,
the ARRL contends that there are "prohibitive limitations (notable among
these being the large number, and the cost, of repeaters and couplers
required on overhead, medium voltage power lines for what amounts to a
limited number of subscribers' homes in rural areas)."

The ARRL maintains that before BPL could ever be considered as a
long-term source of broadband in rural America, the FCC must adopt rules
that provide against BPL interference to the licensed radio services.
Imlay said that studies have pointed out that BPL systems cause
interference to licensed radio services in "certain configurations,"
such as international broadcasting, aeronautical, maritime, disaster
relief, military and the Amateur Radio Service. "Of particular concern
in rural areas is that low-band VHF radio systems are still common among
state police, volunteer fire departments and other 'First Responder'
public safety agencies," Imlay told the Commission, adding, "BPL systems
using this frequency range can and would, without additional rules,
likely block communications between dispatch centers and emergency
response vehicles."

Imlay said that Amateur Radio is a "continuous, intensive user of the
high-frequency bands in residential areas," and as such, "is arguably
the most pervasively affected" by deployment of BPL in rural areas.
"Amateur mobile operation is a particularly notable victim of BPL
interference, since medium-voltage power lines run parallel to
roadways." The Commission's BPL rules "include no effective protection."

Imlay reminded the Commission that the ARRL, as well as broadcast
industry representatives, challenged the adequacy of the FCC's BPL
interference rules: "On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia, the Court remanded the ET Docket 04-37
proceeding to the Commission
<http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2008/04/25/10064/?nc=1> with some very
specific instructions, including reconsideration of assumptions relating
to interference mitigation and disclosure of studies that had previously
only been released in redacted form." Imlay pointed out that almost a
year after the Court's decision, the Commission has done "literally
nothing" to comply with the mandated instructions

In the six years that the BPL rules have been on the Commission's
docket, Imlay said that there has been "continuous and extensive debate
about the interference potential of BPL." This, he told the FCC, has
created "some uncertainty" amongst the various utilities and
municipalities that have been eyeing BPL as a broadband delivery
mechanism, with the Commission's inaction since the Court's decision
contributing to the uncertainty and "creating a dampening effect on the
marketplace's interest in BPL." Before the FCC can implement a BPL
policy for rural America, Imlay said that this "regulatory uncertainty"
would need to be resolved.

The cost of implementing interference resolution must be considered by
any rural broadband provider, Imlay said. While there is nothing in the
FCC rules concerning this, Imlay reminded the Commission that the ARRL,
"some eight months ago, offered a plan to the Commission's Office of
Engineering and Technology in this regard
<http://www.arrl.org/?artid=8341>. The revised regulation suggested by
ARRL would be sufficient to reduce the potential interference from BPL
to the point that it would be practical to address such instances on a
case-by-case basis. Compliance is achievable with present BPL technology
without significant limitation on BPL deployment, rural or otherwise.
However, the absence of such rules is an obstacle to any consideration
of BPL as a rural broadband mechanism and makes an evaluation of
interference mitigation difficult or impossible." The deployment of a
BPL system with a high potential for interference would require
expensive mitigation afterwards, whereas if the potential is reduced to
an acceptable level at the time of deployment, the need for mitigation
-- and therefore the cost -- will be greatly reduced.

Imlay told the FCC that more than four years ago, the Department of
Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) <http://www.usda.gov/rus/>
recognized "the need and willingness to utilize agency resources to
remove interference concerns as an obstacle to rural broadband rollout
(at least via BPL)." In a January 2005 letter from then-RUS
Administrator Hilda Gay Legg to ARRL Chief Executive Officer David
Sumner, K1ZZ, regarding the RUS's Community Connect Grant Program
<http://www.usda.gov/rus/telecom/commconnect.htm>, the RUS acknowledged
that the cost of interference mitigation from BPL systems was a
"significant" issue, and told the ARRL that "whenever a loan or grant
application proposes broadband service delivery via BPL, the RUS will
'consider the cost of interference mitigation in [its] financial
analysis.'" On March 20, current FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was
nominated by President Barack Obama
<http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2009/03/23/10716/?nc=1> to become the
next Administrator of the RUS.

Imlay told the Commission that "[i]f the means by which a grantee would
comply with the Commission requirements for interference avoidance are
not clear (which as of now they are not), it is unlikely that any
applicant for a grant for broadband service using BPL could address the
RUS's concern about interference." Therefore, Imlay said that it is
necessary for the FCC to address the BPL interference issues on remand
from the Court of Appeals "in order to remove this additional obstacle
to an assessment of rural broadband opportunities via BPL."

The ARRL is "constrained" to note that the FCC has, over the past six
years, "acted not as a dispassionate technical agency in the evaluation
of certain broadband mechanisms, including BPL," Imlay noted, "instead
acting as a self described 'cheerleader' for certain technologies, also
including BPL." By these actions, Imlay said that the Commission "has
ignored technical evidence that is contrary to its predisposition," and
urged the FCC that "those same mistakes" not be repeated here.

Imlay reminded the Commission that President Barack Obama, on his
inauguration day earlier this year, placed a series of goals on the
White House Web site. "Among these," Imlay said, "was the following,
obviously laudable goal: 'Restore Scientific Integrity to the White
House: Restore the basic principle that government decisions should be
based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on
ideological predispositions.' The Commission has the opportunity to
implement this goal in this Docket proceeding."

Saying that rural broadband opportunities should be "evaluated in terms
of the scientific realities of the technologies on the table, and not on
the basis of what the Commission wants to believe about them," the ARRL
asked the FCC to fulfill "without further delay the obligations placed
upon it by the United States Court of Appeals in ET Docket 04-37, and
adopt such revised and additional rules for BPL so as to eliminate the
extant interference potential of the technology." With the regulatory
uncertainty and unresolved interference issues that continue to surround
BPL, the resolution of ET Docket 04-37 is a "prerequisite for the
development" of a plan for a complete evaluation of rural broadband
opportunities and the development of a rural broadband plan.

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