FCC Again Denies ARRL’s Petition in BPL Proceeding
On April 16, the FCC issued a Second Memorandum Opinion and Order (MO&O), denying the ARRL’s December 2011 Petition for Reconsideration that sought reconsideration of the FCC’s Second Report and Order (BPL Second Order), “fundamentally affirm[ing]” its rules for Access Broadband over Power Line (Access BPL) systems. In denying the ARRL’s Petition, the FCC noted that the Petition “[did] not raise new arguments based on new information in the record or on the Commission’s new analysis of limited points as directed by the Court, nor does it demonstrate any errors or omissions in the Commission’s previous decisions,” and that its previous rulings “strike an appropriate balance between the dual objectives of providing for Access BPL technology -- which has potential applications for broadband and Smart Grid uses -- while protecting incumbent radio services against harmful interference.”
The ARRL made 14 principal points in its Petition, each of which was aimed at urging the FCC to enact additional rules that would permit BPL systems to operate without the severe interference potential inherent in BPL technology. The ARRL argued that the current rules do not address this severe interference potential, which was manifested in every deployment of BPL in which the safeguards urged by the ARRL were absent. The FCC dismissed all of the ARRL’s arguments, claiming that the ARRL “did not submit any new information,” made “no new argument” or that it had, in the Commission’s view, failed to make its point.
In 2004, the FCC adopted rules for Access BPL systems, and on reconsideration sought by the ARRL and others, it reaffirmed those rules two years later. In 2007, the ARRL challenged these same rules in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; the Court found for the ARRL on two of its major points and remanded the rules to the FCC for reexamination. In July 2009, the FCC issued a Request for Further Comment and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to address the issues remanded to them by the Court. In October 2011, the FCC issued a Second Report and Order (BPL Second Order) that “fundamentally affirmed our rules for Access Broadband over Power Line (Access BPL) systems. We also make certain minor modifications to improve and clarify the rules. These rules provide an appropriate balance between the dual objectives of providing for Access BPL technology that has potential applications for broadband and Smart Grid while protecting incumbent radio services against harmful interference.”
In the BPL Second Order, the FCC specifically further explained its rationale for retaining the 40-dB-per-decade extrapolation factor for calculating signal decay of BPL at increasing distances perpendicular to the power line at frequencies below 30 MHz, modified the rules to increase the required “notch filtering” capability for systems operating below 30 MHz from 20 dB to 25 dB, established a new alternative procedure for determining site-specific extrapolation factors and adopted a definition for the “slant-range distance” used in the BPL measurement guidelines to further clarify its application. The FCC noted in its MO&O that as a part of the BPL Second Order, it had also rejected the “ARRL’s newly raised request for mandatory notching of all amateur bands at notch depths of at least 35 dB, and found no basis that would warrant modification of the Access BPL rules or otherwise provide additional protection for the Amateur Radio Service.”
In its December 2011 Petition for Reconsideration, the ARRL maintained that the FCC’s BPL rules failed to acknowledge the substantial interference potential of Access BPL systems relative to Amateur Radio HF communications, and repeated its previous request for full-time notching (frequency avoidance) of all amateur frequency allocations of at least 25 dB. If this was done, the distance extrapolation factor assumed for signal decay at distance from BPL-carrying power lines is of far less concern, though the ARRL expected the FCC to adopt a scientifically valid and supportable extrapolation factor.
The Second Memorandum Opinion and Order
The FCC claimed in its MO&O that the ARRL urged four major points: “The unique and substantial interference potential of Access BPL systems relative to Amateur Radio HF communications, the inapplicability and/or inadequacy of the BPL rules with respect to Amateur Radio interaction; the clear necessity of mandatory, full-time notching by Access BPL systems of Amateur Radio allocations to notch depths of at least 25 dB, and the absence of any negative effect on BPL systems of the obligation to maintain full-time notching of amateur bands.” The FCC said that the ARRL made these arguments “based on the same reasoning and facts that we considered and disposed of previously in the BPL First Order, the BPL First MO&O and the BPL Second Order.” The FCC was, it said, unpersuaded by those arguments and denied the ARRL’s Petition.
In its MO&O, the FCC stated that “[t]hroughout this proceeding and in its judicial appeal, the ARRL has argued that more restrictive technical standards are needed to protect the Amateur Radio Service from interference caused by radiofrequency (RF) emissions from Access BPL systems. We have specifically rejected as unnecessary these repeated requests by the ARRL for tighter emissions controls on Access BPL operations, more stringent interference mitigation measures, and requirements for avoidance of BPL operations in the amateur bands.”
The ARRL’s Petition called on the FCC to do more that what the FCC called its “minor adjustments to the rules” in the BPL Second Order: Modification of the rules to increase the required notch filtering capability for systems operating below 30 MHz from 20 dB to 25 dB, established a new alternative procedure for determining site-specific extrapolation factors and adopted a definition for the “slant-range distance” used in the BPL measurement guidelines to further clarify its application. “The ARRL is not specifically requesting reconsideration of these above minor modifications to the rules that were adopted in the BPL Second Order,” the FCC said. “Rather, the ARRL is reiterating its previous request for mandatory full-time permanent notching of all Amateur Radio allocations, which we considered and rejected in the BPL Second Order.”
One of the ARRL’s 14 points in its Petition concerned BPL systems that are operated by International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC). The FCC noted that in December 2010, the ARRL submitted a BPL interference complaint regarding some IBEC-operated BPL systems to both the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (EB) and the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). In February 2011, the ARRL submitted a request to the OET to set aside IBEC’s certification grants for their BPL equipment. In January 2012, IBEC announced it was closing.
“The ARRL argues that because no action has been taken on these complaints, the rules should require permanent notching of amateur frequencies since post hoc enforcement of interference issues is not adequate,” the FCC stated in the MO&O. “We observe that over the years, the Commission has investigated and taken action on BPL complaints where it appeared that it was warranted. In the early period of BPL development, before the rules were in place and compliant equipment was in use, some of our investigations took time to complete. After the rules were established in 2004, there were fewer incidences of interference complaints and we have had cooperation from the BPL system operators to resolve them. We notice that before the Commission could take action on ARRL’s December 2010 interference complaint and February 2011 request regarding IBEC, IBEC had started the shut-down of all its BPL operations, making investigation of its operations as they related to the complaints moot. This anomalous case cannot be extrapolated to conclude that the Commission does not have the capability and/or readiness to enforce its BPL rules. To the contrary, the Commission has diligently investigated previous complaints about interference from BPL systems.”
“The denial of our Petition for Reconsideration, some 16 months after it was filed, comes as no surprise, although some of the rhetoric the Commission resorts to in continuing to defend its wrong-headed promotion of the flawed BPL technology is disappointing,” said ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. “At one point, the Commission even goes to a dictionary to debate our use of the term ‘ubiquitous’ to describe amateur operation. More disturbing is that the Commission says the shutdown of IBEC’s systems occurred ‘before the Commission could take action on ARRL’s December 2010 interference complaint,’ rendering the complaint moot -- but the shutdown did not occur until January 2012, more than a year later. Are the Commission’s licensees supposed to wait until BPL operators become victims of their own financial failings before they gain relief from interference from unlicensed emitters that are operating in clear violation of the Commission’s own rules?”
ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, concurred: “For 10 years now, the ARRL has aggressively and consistently provided to the FCC irrefutable technical arguments, cited controlling technical sources and provided video and audio recordings of actual harmful interference as it occurred at BPL deployments. Several conclusions are unavoidable to an unbiased reader of the record in this protracted rulemaking proceeding: (1) BPL technology has a high interference potential to high frequency and medium frequency authorized radio services. (2) BPL interference on medium voltage overhead power lines occurs over substantial distances along power lines and at substantial distances away from power lines. (3) The interference potential of BPL at hundreds of yards from overhead power lines has been documented by NTIA and by the FCC’s own laboratory staff. (4) Each and every BPL deployment that has not effectively notched Amateur Radio bands, full time, to a reasonable notch depth, has caused interference to stations in the Amateur Radio Service. (5) The FCC has not effectively addressed or resolved any BPL interference case reported to it to date, and its resources are insufficient to remedy BPL interference after the fact. (6) The only way to protect geographically proximate radio services from BPL interference (such as Amateur Radio stations, most of which are located very close to medium voltage overhead power lines) is by rules which prevent the interference at the outset. (7) Responsible BPL companies long ago demonstrated that it is possible to notch, at all times, all Amateur Radio bands to a reasonable notch depth between 25 and 35 dB, without any functional degradation of their systems.”
Imlay said that full time, mandatory notching of amateur bands to a notch depth not less than 25 dB was “the least that the FCC should have required in its rules, because interference prevention is possible; post-hoc remediation is not. In this instance, the FCC has not acted responsibly in its stewardship of the MF and HF radio spectrum. The ARRL will continue to vigilantly guard against the abuse and pollution of the radio spectrum in the use of BPL technology on a case-by-case basis as necessary, wherever necessary.”