Friday, March 5, 2004

Ham operators dread power-line Web access

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ham radio operator Joe Phillips, of Fairfield, and his fellow members of the American Radio Relay League, worry that Cinergy's high-speed Internet service delivered over power lines will interfere with their radio signals.

Cinergy Corp.'s launch next week of high-speed Internet service delivered over power lines has ham radio operators fearful of possible radio interference.

The utility, which is teaming with Current Communications Group in a joint venture to launch the service in Cincinnati, said amateur radio operators' concerns are unfounded.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," said Alex Pardo of Cinergy, which is teaming with Germantown, Md.-based Current in the rollout of technology known as broadband over power lines.

The technology allows subscribers to plug a special computer modem into any electrical outlet and receive data and voice services at speeds equal to or better than competing broadband services.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has championed the technology, saying it could increase availability and lower the cost of broadband.

The Newington, Conn.-based American Radio Relay League, a national association of ham radio operators, last July told the FCC the technology "is a Pandora's Box of unprecedented proportions'' citing what it called "severe interference potential from BPL (broadband over power lines)."

Current Communications said it would begin deploying the service next week in the Hyde Park-Mount Lookout area.

Fairfield ham operator Joe Phillips, Ohio section manager for the ham association, conceded the issue may seem like a "snoozer for everybody" but ham operators.

But, he said, ham operators, including about 7,500 in Southwest Ohio, are concerned that interference from increased radio waves along unshielded power lines could interfere with all types of radio transmissions, such as emergency agencies, the National Weather Service and other public and private entities.

Said Pardo, "We know some providers of the technology have created interference with amateur radio transmissions, but Current's technology isn't one of them."

Jay Birnbaum, vice president and general counsel for Current, said the radio interference emitted from power lines with Current's technology is no more than that from personal computers, DVD players and other electronic devices in homes.

"We're talking about emissions that are just a billionth of a watt," he said, that can't be measured within about 30 feet of a power line.

Current has adopted the so-called home-plug technical standard, which includes a filtering process called "notching" to eliminate interference.

The FCC has said it was aware of concerns about possible interference.

"After careful consideration, however, we believe that these interference concerns can be adequately addressed."

Ed Thomas, chief of FCC's engineering and technology office, said proposed rules would require the power-line equipment to have the ability to mitigate harmful interference by shifting frequencies.

A grassroots group of 710,000 licensees nationally, the ham radio operators have traditionally been vocal about protecting their radio-frequency turf.

Thomas noted in an earlier FCC comment period on rules for the new technology that more than 5,000 comments were received, many from individual ham operators around the country.

"Everybody's concerned about interference to licensed operators," he said. "But our job is to do what's in the public interest to enable new technology while protecting the rights of ham operators."

Ham operators cited comments last year to the FCC from the chief information officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Barry West, who said interference from BPL technology could interrupt FEMA radio systems.

But in a Jan. 8 letter, acting FEMA director Michael Brown said the agency had "not concluded that there is a material interference problem."

Phillips said operators worry that widespread use of the technology could turn power lines into large antennas emitting interference over wide areas.

The FCC disagrees.

"In general, we believe that a properly designed and operated BPL system will pose little interference hazard," a spokesman said.


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