PPL Telcom Solves BPL Interference Problems, Says Executive

Mike McCabe, of Quincy, Ill., has no beef with broadband over powerline service (BPL) so long as it doesnt disrupt his hobby as an amateur radio operator.

Not all his peers feel precisely the same way.

In late April, the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) asked President Bush to withdraw his support of BPL technology.

“Power lines were designed to transmit energy,” ARRL President Jim Haynie said in a fax to the White House. “They were not designed to transmit broadband signals, which are, in fact, radio frequency signals. The broadband signals radiate from power lines and cause severe interference to radio reception.”

A subsidiary of one power company deploying BPL says interference does occur, but it can be mitigated. PPL Telcom LLC, an unregulated subsidiary of PPL Corp., has received complaints from four amateur radio operators since it began operations in February 2002, according to Al Richenbacher, chief network architect with PPL Telcom.

During a general session Tuesday on the debate over the interference BPL may cause other devices, Richenbacher said Allentown, Pa.-based PPL took several measures to address the radio operators concerns, including reducing power of the BPL equipment, shifting frequencies PPL uses out of the amateur radio band, and avoiding using certain radio bands.

Richenbacher said PPL solved all the complaints. Two of the four operators said they were pleased with the results, he said, and three of the people actually became BPL customers.

Interference may not be all that bad. Its a way of advertising, Richenbacher said in gest, soliciting laughs from a packed audience, many of whom were engineers.

PPL has made BPL available to 6,000 homes and plans to reach 10,000 residences by the end of June, Richenbacher said. He said interference is relatively infrequent given the territory PPL has covered with the broadband technology.

In February, the FCC proposed changes to technical rules to foster the development of broadband access over electrical lines. The rule changes specified in a notice of proposed rulemaking are intended in part to help ensure utilities operating broadband systems over power lines dont cause harmful interference with such entities as public safety and amateur radio operators.

An amateur radio, or ham, operator since 1984, McCabe says the power industry must take a proactive approach to address amateur concerns. Hams, he says, provide vital communications during times of crisis, such as when the amateur community provided the Red Cross support during the 1993 flood of the Mississippi river. According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, there are 680,000 ham radio operators in the United States.

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