FCC Opens Formal Rulemaking Proceeding for Broadband Over Power Lines
On Feb. 12, 2004, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on a limited set of technical rules governing the provision of broadband communications services by electric utilities over their existing power lines (“BPL”). This follows an earlier Inquiry proceeding last year in which the Commission sought general comments about BPL deployment. Although utilities have been developing BPL technology (a.k.a. Power Line Communications) through limited trials, more recent and aggressive testing and deployment coupled with promotion of BPL before federal and state regulatory commissions, caused the FCC to issue this NPRM on the technical requirements concerning RF emissions and interference. The Commission reserved for a later date consideration of regulatory and policy issues such as competitive impact, cross-subsidization, and pole attachments.
While we will know more details about the NPRM once the FCC issues the full text, the Commission indicated during its Feb. 12 open meeting that it will seek comment on proposals to:
- continue to apply the existing carrier current system emission limits (Part 15 of the FCC’s rules) to providers of BPL;
- require BPL providers to employ adaptive interference mitigation techniques upon notification of radio interference problems (including the ability to shut down operations entirely, reduce transmit power and exclude the specific frequency bands causing the interference);
- subject BPL providers to notification requirements in which BPL providers would submit relevant operating information to a central, industry-established entity that would maintain and publish a database including information concerning: (a) the BPL equipment deployed and its location, (b) the type of modulation utilized by such equipment, and (c) the spectrum bands utilized; and
- provide guidelines for appropriately and consistently measuring emissions from BPL and other carrier current systems to aid in identifying and verifying the source of any claimed interference.
The Commissioners’ support of the NPRM was nearly unanimous. All five commissioners lauded BPL technology as an up-and-coming competitive platform for broadband communications, particularly in rural areas, that may also enable electric utilities to manage their electric utility operations more efficiently. Commissioner Copps, however, dissented in part from the NPRM, noting that the item failed to address difficult, but nevertheless critical, policy issues regarding the impact of BPL deployment on competition, pole attachments, crosssubsidization, universal service, CALEA, disabilities access, and enhanced 911 service.
As the FCC takes steps to revise technical interference regulations affecting BPL, several leading electric utilities have redoubled their efforts over the past several months to expedite BPL development efforts and enlarge existing market trials. These utilities include PPL Telecom (“Pennsylvania Power & Light”); Ameren Corporation (Union Electric, Central Illinois Public Service, Central Illinois Lighting Company); American Electric Power (“AEP”); PEPCO/Conectiv; The Southern Company (Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Alabama Power, Mississippi Power and Savannah Electric); Consolidated Edison; Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; Progress Entergy; TXU (Texas Utilities); Cinergy; and City of Manassas, Virginia.
Cable and telecommunications providers offering broadband services, as well as existing spectrum users potentially affected by BPL emissions, should consider monitoring and participating in this rulemaking proceeding and tracking electric utilities’ formal submissions and actions at state public service commissions concerning BPL.
If you need additional information regarding this proceeding or BPL, or are interested in submitting or reviewing comments, please do not hesitate to contact us.