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FCC to Utilities: Don't Look to Hams to Pay for Your Testing

08/28/2009

In a case that goes back more than 10 years, the FCC has told a Pennsylvania utility that the utility is responsible for paying for "efforts to locate and correct instances of [power line] noise." At least one amateur has been complaining to the FCC since 2000 regarding harmful radio interference possibly caused by power line equipment that is maintained by Pittsburgh's Duquesne Light Company (DLC).

Bob Thacker, K3GT, of Allison Park, Pennsylvania -- a suburb just northeast of Pittsburgh -- first noticed harmful interference back in 1996. He told the ARRL that DLC would come out and fix things, but that he would soon hear noise again. After a few years of this, he complained to the FCC, and in 2005, the FCC notified DLC of the complaint. A month later, DLC responded to the FCC, detailing their efforts to resolve the matter and indicated that the most recent complaint was the result of changed conditions, not the continuation of an old problem.

According to the FCC, DLC again communicated with the FCC in a letter dated June 2, 2005, explaining the efforts they had taken to repair three lightning arrestors. During the latter half of 2005 and into 2006, Thacker continued to experience interference and continued to report these instances to DLC, requesting that DLC correct the problems. In 2007, he located a specific pole as one source of noise and advised a Mr Luther of DLC of this fact; Mr Luther advised Thacker that he would submit a work order.

In March 2008, DLC contacted Thacker, indicating that it had swept the area where suspected pole was located and discovered no noise. Rather, DLC indicated that the noise source was a neon light. Finally, DLC stated that it had spent "significant amounts of time and money" attempting to address his concerns and that DLC would require him to pay for any additional efforts to locate and correct instances of noise.

Special Counsel of Amateur Enforcement Laura Smith responded to DLC in July of this year, saying "Such a response is not acceptable," spelling out what she called "the most important rules relating to radio and television interference from incidental radiators," specifically:

47 CFR, Section 15.5: General Conditions of Operation
(b) Operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental radiator is subject to the conditions that no harmful interference is caused and that interference must be accepted that may be caused by the operation of an authorized radio station, by another intentional or unintentional radiator, by industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) equipment, or by an incidental radiator.
(c) The operator of the radio frequency device shall be required to cease operating the device upon notification by a Commission representative that the device is causing harmful interference. Operation shall not resume until the condition causing the harmful interference has been corrected.

47 CFR, Section 15.13: Incidental Radiators
Manufacturers of these devices shall employ good engineering practices to minimize the risk of harmful interference.

47 CFR Section 15.15: General Technical Requirements
(c) Parties responsible for equipment compliance should note that the limits specified in this part will not prevent harmful interference under all circumstances. Since the operators of Part 15 devices are required to cease operation should harmful interference occur to authorized users of the radio frequency spectrum, the parties responsible for equipment compliance are encouraged to employ the minimum field strength necessary for communications, to provide greater attenuation of unwanted emissions than required by these regulations, and to advise the user as to how to resolve harmful interference problems.

"Given the fact this case has been ongoing for quite some time without resolution and DLC has had ample time to locate the instances of interference and make the necessary repairs," Smith told the utility, "you are directed to respond to [me] within 60 days of receipt of this letter, detailing what steps you have taken to resolve the remaining instances of interference that are reported as being caused by your equipment. Should the remaining interference problems not be resolved within those 60 days, DLC will be required to provide [me] with a status update every two weeks going forward as to what progress, if any, has been made to resolve the matter."

ARRL Lab Engineer and power line noise expert Mike Gruber, W1MG, was pleased with Smith's decision, and said that amateurs should not be made to pay fees to the utilities to test for harmful interference by the same utilities. "It is not the responsibility of an Amateur Radio operator to track down and get rid of power line noise -- that's the utilities' job. I am pleased with the precedent that Laura Smith and the FCC have set here. Now maybe more utilities will take power line noise interference more seriously in the future."



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