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ARRL General Bulletin ARLB019 (2009)

ARLB019 ARRL Comments on FCC's Proposed Establishment of Rural
Broadband Plan

QST de W1AW  
ARRL Bulletin 19  ARLB019
From ARRL Headquarters  
Newington CT  March 30, 2009
To all radio amateurs 

ARLB019 ARRL Comments on FCC's Proposed Establishment of Rural
Broadband Plan

In March 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 opportunity to
comment on the Public Notice provided the ARRL to express concerns
about broadband over power lines (BPL) that the FCC has yet to
satisfactorily address.

In the comments submitted by ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD,
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

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, "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 the FCC's plan to widely
deploy 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 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. 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) 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 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, 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 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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