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[RFI] "themes" in the BPL controversy

To: <rfi@contesting.com>
Subject: [RFI] "themes" in the BPL controversy
From: "Edward F. Douglass" <douglass@dcwis.com>
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 22:46:55 -0600
List-post: <mailto:rfi@contesting.com>
There were a lot of messages today related to BPL and how we, the ham radio
community, should defend ourselves.  I was cheered by these messages because
they seemed to offer better strategies than what I have been reading for the
last few months on this site.

There seemed to be two main themes to the messages today.  They have been
mentioned before, but today they were  articulated more clearly.  (I regret
that I have erased the messages and can't remember to whom to give credit
for the ideas expressed.  My apologies.)

1.  One of the themes is that EVERY user of the HF and lower VHF specturm
will suffer interference from BPL wherever it operates, and that BPL service
providers will experience interference from transmitters operating in the
same spectrum that BPL uses.  Ed Hare's efforts as well as the failed trials
in several other countries have demonstrated that this is a very real and
fatal limitation for BPL.  However, I haven't seen signs the either the FCC
or the BPL industry clearly recognizes the interference problem.  Ed Hare
must have been in deep anguish when, after demonstration devasting
interference from one of the BPL test operations, the reporter who
accompanied him in the field wrote that ham radio operators "claimed" that
there was interference.  There are several sub-themes.

    A.  The ham radio community must strengthen its alliance with the other
users who will be adversely affected.  Almost nobody but us will care very
much if our hobby is spoiled.  They will care more if the communication
systems of Homeland Security, the military, safety services, or local and
state emergency services will be harmed.  I haven't seen much reporting
about this on this site.
    B.  The documentation of interference to ham radio operators is
important.  Thanks to Ed Hare and all those working with him.  It is
distressing, though, to read the e-mail of the ham in Manassas, VA who says
he has heard nothing from the hams in his community about the interference
from the BPL test operation he has experienced.  Maybe he's not "in the
loop."  Maybe the local clubs and the section manager have not mobilized the
ham community to look for, record, and report the interference.  Are we
doing enough to document and report the interference?
    C.  If it is not already happening, the ARRL should encourage others who
rely on the HF and lower VHF spectrum to document instances of interference
and communicate them to the FCC and the relevant committees in the House and
    D.  Several messages have appeared on this site asking whether hams (and
other licensed users) will cause interference to BPL and what the
consequences to a BPL service will be.  I haven't seen any answers on this
site.  The BPL defensive move is to notch out the frequencies on which they
experience (or cause) interference.  If a BPL operation does this for the
frequencies used by others in the BPL service area, how much spectrum would
be left for their system?  How adversely would this affect their broadband
service?  What would the costs be to do all the notching?
    E.  BPL uses WiFi to get around the transformers.  What is the potential
for transmit and receive interference, either given or received by the BPL
operation from other users of the WiFi frequencies?

2.  The other theme is to analyse whether investment in BPL makes good
economic sense for investors.  Again, there are several sub-themes.

    A.  How many potential subscribersfor BPL are there?  Someone suggested
5% of homes.  Was this an off-the-top-of -the-head estimate or was it based
on actual market data?  If maket data doesn't exist, we need to complete and
publish an analysis of the homes that subscribe and COULD subscribe now to
one of the other high speed data technologies (wireless, fibre, DSL, cable,
or satellite).  What is the potential market for BPL?  Is it large enough to
make a go of it?  More important, is this market concentrated enough (number
of potential subscribers per "mile" of equipment) or is it so dispersed that
it is not economically viable?  There are hams with the ability to do this
or to get the data.
    B.  Is it the power companies who want to do this?  Or is it venture
capitalists that are bringing the power companies and the BPL equipment
manufacturers together with a proposal to make some money?  Are the
proposals economically sound?
    C.  If a BPL venture fails, will the electric service rate subscribers
have to pay for the losses?  If so, do the public service commissions
understand this?  Do the rate payers?
    D.  The venture capitalists and the would-be investors need to be made
aware of the interference potential (in both directions) and the negative
impacts interference will have on the economic success of a BPL enterprise.
Surely we have hams who are also venture capitalists, financial advisors,
and editors of financial publications -- or we have friends and aquaintances
like these.  The article by one ham on this site to the editor of the Wall
Street Journal was an excellent effort.
    E.  As a matter of public policy, should the electric utilities be
raising capital for BPL when the reports about the blackout in the northeast
last year pointed to the urgent need to spend huge amounts of money to
re-design and upgrade the electricity grid in the United States?  Can the
utilities realistically do both?

I happen to believe that BPL is a byzantine way of bringing high-speed data
to homes and offices.  It is not smart, it is not new, and it is about as
expensive for subscribers as the other technologies.  It does not do more
for subscribers than the existing technologies.  It is not going to serve
the people in rural America for the same reason they are not served by
cable, DSL, fibre, or wireless:  it is unprofitable.  BPL causes massive
interference and it is susceptible to interference.

My prediction is that in time American homes will want and be willing to pay
for more bandwidth than BPL can provide.  BPL will be scrapped and replaced
with a technology that has greater capacity.  While wireless looks promising
at the moment as a better alternative to BPL, we will run out of spectrum
space before we will meet the demand for service.  The same is true for
satellite communication with the added problem of not enough "parking"
places in space for geostationary satellites.  If we were to look further
into the future, the better choice would be fibre a optic cable into every
home adn business, carrying all the signals.

Let's be realistic.  Crying that our hobby is going to be wrecked by BPL is
not going to cut it either with the general public, the FCC or Congress.
Ham radio counts for little in the grand scheme of things, except to
ourselves.  Most of the public does not know what we do or what we can do.
We have never given our national organization(s) enough money in dues or
contributions to effectively publicized what is good and valuable about
amateur radio.  FCC decisions seem to rest primarily on the business
potential of communication activities and on matters of national security.
On these decision criteria, we simply don't count.  Congress seems to be
influenced heavily by lobbyists and campaign contributors. While the ARRL
has lobbyists working on our behalf, my sense is that we are badly
out-gunned in terms of money but that we do a credible job in arguing on the
public policy issues and matters of law and regulation.  If there is lots of
money to be made in BPL and ham radio is in the way, we will be done away
with.  Others have offered up the likely justification rhetoric on this

Of the two themes, above, the second is the more promising as a defensive
strategy.  Follow the money!

Ed Douglass

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