This is the article text referred to by K5KG
By KEN BROWN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
March 23, 2004; Page A1
Rick Lindquist drove down a street in a New York City suburb, ignoring
snow swirling around his car and twirling the dial on the ham radio
to the side of his dashboard. The radio picked up an operator in
discussing antennas, the Salvation Army's daily emergency network check
then the time, as broadcast from Colorado by the National Institute of
Standards and Technology.
As the car turned onto North State Road in the village of Briarcliff
in Westchester County, the voices faded, replaced with whirs and wahs --
what could have been sound effects from a 1950s science-fiction movie.
source, according to Mr. Lindquist, was right outside the window: the
lines running alongside the road.
Owned by Consolidated Edison, the lines transmit not just electricity
data, much like phone and cable-TV wires. The utility is testing a
for reading meters, probing for outages and potentially offering
Internet access to its customers via their electrical outlets. The
interference from the power lines "ranges from very annoying to
that's-all-I-can-hear," contends Mr. Lindquist, 58 years old, who often
taps out Morse-code messages as he drives.
In a clash between the dots and dashes of the telegraph and the bits and
bytes of the Web, the nation's vocal but shrinking population of
operators, or "hams" as they call themselves, are stirring up a war with
the utility industry over new power-line communications. Hams have
the Federal Communications Commission with about 2,500 letters and
opposing power-line trials. In a letter to the FCC, the American Radio
Relay League, a ham-radio group with 160,000 members, called power-line
communications "a Pandora's box of unprecedented proportions."
The league has raised more than $300,000 from nearly 5,600 donors since
last summer, to pay for testing, lobbying and publicity to spread the
about the perceived threat. A half-dozen hams even confronted FCC
Michael Powell, a big advocate of the power-line technology, when he
visited a test site near Raleigh, N.C., earlier this month.
The problem, most ham operators contend, is that power lines weren't
to carry anything other than electricity. Telephone and cable-TV lines
either shielded with a second set of wires or twisted together to
their signals from interfering with other transmissions. But signals
over electrical wires tend to spill out, the hams contend.
The FCC and the utilities say new technologies have eliminated the
interference and accuse the hams of exploiting the issue for their own
gains. "We haven't seen the sun darken and everything electrical turn to
white noise and haze during a deployment," says Matt Oja, an executive
Progress Energy, whose test Mr. Powell visited. "This is a fairly vocal
group that has been whipped into a frenzy by their organization."
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for the hams. Not too many
decades ago, ham-radio operators were on the cutting edge of
technology. They chatted with people in far-flung places at a time when
long-distance calling was still a luxury. They spread word of disasters
that otherwise might have taken days to reach the public. In the age of
e-mail, wireless Internet access and cellphones that double as
walkie-talkies, many operators worry that their hobby will fade away.
To become a fully licensed ham operator, people still need to learn
code, though that requirement likely will be dropped soon after more
decade of debate. Aging hams, who built crystal radio sets as kids or
radio operators during World War II, are dying. Fewer youngsters are
replacing them. Armed with powerful computers, today's young tinkerers
up to be tech geeks, playing videogames and writing software.
The American Radio Relay League has seen its membership shrink to
160,000 from a peak of 175,000 in 1995, and the average member is in his
mid-50s. The group estimates that there are about 250,000 active
Hams always have been a quirky bunch. They haunt a series of short-wave
radio frequencies set aside for them by the federal government in the
1930s. Other slices of the spectrum are reserved for AM and FM radio,
broadcast television, cellphones, and police and fire departments, among
Hams take great pride in radioing around the world. One favorite game:
trying to contact someone in each of the 3,000-plus counties in the U.S.
Mr. Lindquist is so enthusiastic about ham radio that he vacations in
such as Whitehorse, the capital of Canada's Yukon Territory, so other
can claim they made contact with that city.
Ed Thomas, the FCC's chief engineer, says the commission has spent a
listening to the hams' concerns about power lines and is getting
frustrated. "Why is this thing a major calamity?" he says. "And
I'd love the answer to that."
Companies such as Con Ed and Progress note that current FCC regulations
call for systems to be shut down if they interfere with hams. The radio
operators agree the rules are clear, but they fear they will be
or not enforced.
Con Ed says its system in Briarcliff Manor doesn't interfere with the
and maintains that, in two years of testing, it hasn't received one
complaint. But the American Radio Relay League says it did mention this
system in its letters to the FCC, and it has been complaining about it
its Web site.
The hams have been quick to act wherever systems are being rolled out.
days after Penn Yan, a town of 5,200 that sits amid New York's Finger
Lakes, approved a plan to test power-line Internet access, "the
started with the ham-radio operators -- letters, e-mails, telephone
saying, 'You can't do this,' " recalls Mayor Doug Marchionda Jr.
Hoping to keep everyone happy, he approached David Simmons, a local ham
owner of an electronics store that sells radio gear. They surveyed the
before the trial began to get base readings of interference. They even
pinpointed a spot that had bothered police and firefighters for years,
tracing it to refrigerators at a local supermarket.
With the refrigerators fixed and the power-line system in place over
blocks of Penn Yan, Mr. Simmons is satisfied that there is no
and now favors the new technology. "This thing has caught quite a buzz,"
says. "It's just so much negativity out there."
Tom Gius, a ham-radio operator in Alpine, Texas, sees the power lines as
threat to the public services that hams provide. When hailstorms sweep
through each spring, Mr. Gius heads to the local radio station, while
hams fan out to the north, south, east and west. They communicate by
and Mr. Gius passes information to the radio station. "We won't be able
understand each other, it'll be so noisy," frets Mr. Gius, a 60-year-old
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