A Retired Utility Engineer Comments on BPL
From what I have been able to observe, the “driver” for establishing the new data service may have come directly from the White House. There it may be the case that some big-hitter campaign contributors got to the administration, or it may be the case that they were convinced by “experts” that BPL was the “magic bullet” to patch up the country’s woeful consumer broadband infrastructure mess. That mess should be cleaned up (as was beautifully demonstrated in northern Utah and elsewhere in the world) by construction of universal fiber-to-the-premises service, not ad-hoc engineering “patches.”
In trying to deal with this emerging situation, the FCC undoubtedly was silenced by the White House. The Commission’s engineers well understand the degree and scope of the potential problems they may have to face, but they clam up instantly whenever BPL is mentioned. The field staff is clearly anxious about the problems which may ensue when systems are operated.
It’s already well known that there is little or no business case for electrical utilities’ trying to operate subscription Internet access BPL systems, but the utilities also have a hidden agenda. If the utilities try to get into the subscription market the existing telco and cable TV operators will just drop their prices. Wireless WiMAX service and some limited consumer fiber service also may soon be available. Nevertheless the utilities really want BPL networks for their own internal telecommunications needs, involving extensive remote automation of field resources and possibly automatic customer meter reading, again on the cheap. Unfortunately, senior utility managers generally are technologically “challenged,” they have never previously had to deal with utility-created radiofrequency interference problems, and I would expect them and their companies to try to stonewall and/or “PR” the interference problems once they arise.
Given the potentially broad frequency rand involved in the new service, there should be plenty of problem areas if/when commercial systems are built. Out here in California the Highway Patrol operates their fleet on 39 and 42 MHz, we are saturated with low-band VHF television channels, the military has a substantial “back up system” presence on HF and VHF, there is still extensive offshore marine and trans-Pacific aviation use of the HF frequency bands, and almost every available frequency anywhere in the spectrum is in use.
I should also mention the 50,000 hams residing in the state. And it was the hams who kept New Orleans “on the air” after Katrina, when most of the commercial telecomm networks had been destroyed. My own home station is “disaster hardened,” and I’m prepared to remain in service after the “Big One” (quake) hits. By my station and many others will be useless in an emergency if I can’t hear anything, because the power lines are shrieking while providing access to U-Tube for a few of my neighbors. Has anybody in the regulatory world really though this thing through?
BPL is the radio spectrum pollution equivalent of central power plant smokestacks belching forth the combustion products of high sulfur coal. Do we want/need something with this kind of a cost/benefit ratio?
Gordon Schlesinger, W6LBV