[RFI] Why we badly need "party line" materials for all hams

Richard (Rick) Karlquist (N6RK) richard at karlquist.com
Mon Jul 19 11:54:03 EDT 2004

I posted a request for a press kit on this
reflector a couple of days ago specifically
for this kind of situation and got no response
whatsoever.  I'll contribute money to the ARRL 
when they tell me they will use it to hire
a public relations firm, which is badly needed.
I'm glad there are at least 2 of us who understand
this problem.

Rick N6RK

> -----Original Message-----
> From: rfi-bounces at contesting.com [mailto:rfi-bounces at contesting.com]On
> Behalf Of Dave Bernstein
> Sent: Sunday, July 18, 2004 3:24 PM
> To: rfi at contesting.com
> Subject: [RFI] Why we badly need "party line" materials for all hams
> A recent post on the Yahoo BPL reflector contains a BPL article by David
> Lazarus, an SF Bay-area journalist, that includes quotes from the
> president of a local radio club. See
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BPLandHamRadio/message/3728 for the
> original article.
> This was an opportunity to set out the facts on BPL in a way that
> doesn't make us look like oldtimers straining against the wheels of
> progress. Instead, all the wrong buttons got pushed -- not because our
> representative was ill-intentioned or poorly motivated, but because he
> was unprepared.
> The response I posted on the Yahoo BPL reflector is appended below.
>     73,
>         Dave, AA6YQ
> I'm certain that Mikel Lechner meant well, but the result is highly
> counterproductive. This perfectly illustrates why we need a "party line"
> summary that helps guide hams when they find themselves being
> interviewed as Mikel did. Of course this won't eliminate bad press, but
> it will significantly change the balance. 
> To be clear, my focus is not Mikel Lechner's specific comments. It is
> the absence of accessible information that hams can use to prepare
> themselves for interaction with reporters, government officials, or any
> other non-ham that might influence BPL adoption. 
> Specific comments and suggestions are prepended by +++ below.  
> Ham radio operators squawk over BPL 
> David Lazarus Sunday, July 18, 2004 
> Well, it sure was exciting when Michael Powell, the head of the Federal
> Communications Commission, joined execs from AT&T and PG&E in Menlo Park
> the other day for a test of newfangled technology to provide Internet
> access over ordinary power lines. 
> "I think this is critical technology," Powell said at an AT&T facility
> on the Peninsula. "This is something we want to see happen." 
> Mikel Lechner, a Silicon Valley software engineer who wasn't invited to
> the event, is a good deal less enthusiastic about the prospect of
> broadband over power lines, or BPL in techno-speak. 
> Lechner is president of the Foothills Amateur Radio Society, an
> organization of 75 or so local ham radio operators, and he's deeply
> worried that the new technology will all but obliterate his pastime. 
> +++ This positions the issue as being our self-interest (continuing
> pursuit our hobby) over the self-interest of others (cheap, quick access
> to high-speed internet). Since there are many more of them than us, and
> since there are alternatives to HF refraction for communication, this
> puts us in a fundamentally weak position. 
> +++ Instead, "If BPL were a great technology, we'd all be jumping
> through hoops to find ways to coexist with it. But its not -- its
> economics are terrible, and there are much better, cheaper alternatives,
> for example WiMAX." And then launch into the specifics of BPL's
> "not-really-a-last-mile-solution" problem, and its RFI problems
> (focusing more on the impact to public service and public safety
> applications than on ham radio). Close with "And shouldn't the power
> companies  be focused on making the power grid deliver electricity
> reliably? Do you remember what happened in the NorthEast not too long
> ago?" 
> That's because BPL works by sending radio signals over electricity
> lines. The signals travel along the wires and through utility
> transformers and eventually arrive in people's homes, where they're
> funneled into home computers via special modems plugged into electrical
> outlets. 
> "The problem," Lechner told me, "is that power lines were not meant to
> carry radio signals. That means the signals will radiate from the wires.
> They'll escape. And that means anyone within a short distance will
> receive interference." 
> +++ Characterizing the problem as being limited to "within a short
> distance" is technically inaccurate, and weakens our argument. 
> The telecom and power industries say this problem has been licked. But
> Lechner isn't so sure. 
> +++ This was the perfect opportunity to discuss Alliant's recent
> withdrawal from BPL due to its inability to mitigate the RFI its pilot
> produced. It directly rebuts the "this problem has been licked" claim. 
> The radio antenna atop his Campbell home is about 20 feet from a power
> line. Lechner can easily imagine what would happen if that wire were
> crackling each day with millions of e-mails and Web pages. 
> "It would pretty much kill my hobby," he said. "Except for the strongest
> signals, I wouldn't be able to hear a thing." 
> BPL is one of those rock-your-world tech breakthroughs that has been
> percolating in telecom circles for years. But it's only been within the
> past few months that serious testing has begun throughout the country. 
> +++ Having this sort of BS not appear in an article requires one to
> steer the interview so that the specifics of BPL can be discussed. First
> its important to distinguish the distribution of high-speed data to a
> home (via BPL) from the distribution of high-speed data within a home
> (via HomePlug). The latter is convenient and economical, but is hardly
> revolutionary -- its been around (and improving) for years. But the
> major convenience benefits attributed to BPL -- namely the ability to
> get high-speed internet by plugging a PC into the wall -- is an
> attribute of HomePlug, not BPL! One can use HomePlug with cable or DSL
> today! In addition, its important to point out that BPL generally cannot
> bring signals directly into a home -- the distribution transformers
> block the signal. Thus the power company must install pole-mounted
> equipment -- either transformer bypasses, or WiFi transceivers -- to
> complete the circuit. This is no less expensive or time-consuming than
> making cable or DSL connections. 
> One of the most extensive projects has been undertaken in Cincinnati,
> where a local utility is spending about $10 million to make BPL
> available to 50,000 homes by the end of the year. 
> The advances have caught the attention of even President Bush, who
> observed last month that BPL "seems to make sense if what you are
> looking for is avenues to the home. Electricity goes into the home." 
> +++ A perfect opportunity to point out that the politicians don't really
> understand that while electricity goes into the home, high-speed
> internet won't unless the utility installs additional equipment. 
> Good call. And that's what makes this technology so tantalizing. The
> notion that homes, businesses and schools can be wired for high-speed
> Net access with relatively little muss and fuss makes BPL a dream come
> true for a broadband-hungry world. 
> "The technology works right now," declared Bill Moroney, president of
> the United Telecom Council, a power-industry trade group. "And by next
> year you'll see better technology and the year after that even better
> technology." 
> Let's hope so. BPL may be functional in its present form, but it's still
> far from perfect. Not the least is no one really knows for sure what
> would happen to the nation's power grid if it had to do double duty as a
> major communications network. 
> +++ Our nation's power grid is in terrible shape, as illustrated by the
> recent NE blackout and information revealed in follow-up studies. Why is
> the power industry focused on BPL when the basic, critical
> infrastructure for which they are responsible is unreliable and getting
> worse by the day? 
> PG&E spokesman John Nelson said testing to date has shown that data
> transmitted via BPL move independently of electricity flowing through
> the lines. In theory, he said, that means the grid should stand up to
> the rigors of a tsunami of spam pushing Viagra and Nigerian investment
> opportunities. 
> +++ Nice to see that PG&E spokesmen understand superposition. Too bad we
> can't link BPL to Spam... 
> "The science doesn't change as you go to a larger scale," Nelson said. 
> Locally, up to 100 Menlo Park homes will fiddle with BPL for the next
> six months. PG&E and AT&T will use the results of the test to determine
> when and how BPL will be rolled out on a wider scale in the Bay Area. 
> For PG&E, the attraction of BPL isn't repositioning the formerly
> bankrupt utility as the next AOL. Rather, Nelson said, PG&E is keen on
> the idea that it can have an interactive link with customers, allowing
> the company to see where juice is flowing at any given time. 
> +++ This would have been a good entre' to "BPL locks subscribers into a
> single source of internet access; what's the power industry's track
> record for fair and effective pricing?" 
> +++ Is there truly economic synergy between BPL and realtime power
> monitoring? Pole-mounted transformer bypasses or WiFi transceivers won't
> automatically monitor and report power usage; adding these capabilities
> would increase both capital and installation costs.  
> Moreover, he said BPL would provide for more efficient use of power
> throughout Northern California. By being able to show customers the cost
> of electricity in real time, PG&E would allow people to choose the
> cheapest hour to do the laundry, say, or run the dishwasher. 
> "We don't have any plans to be an Internet service provider," Nelson
> said. He added, though, that "no business model has been worked out" for
> the utility's use of BPL. 
> +++ A huge red flag missed. What will happen if, when the business model
> is finally worked out, the economics are unattractive? Who will pay? The
> municipalities? The subscribers? 
> Irwin Gerszberg, AT&T's director of local network technology,
> acknowledged that BPL is still a work in progress. But the arrival of
> more- powerful chips and modems in coming months will solve most current
> difficulties, he said. 
> +++ Response: "Exactly what difficulties are you referring to, Mr.
> Gerszberg?" 
> One key improvement, Gerszberg stressed, is technology that allows BPL
> networks to recognize competing signals from ham-radio operators and, in
> effect, detour around the frequency. 
> "Interference really isn't an issue anymore," he said. "Earlier BPL
> systems were noisier. Now it's not a problem." 
> +++ Response: "Then why did Alliant recently terminate their BPL pilot
> in Cedar Rapids due to interference problems and decide to not pursue
> BPL? 
> The issue at this point, Gersz-berg observed, is how the heavily
> regulated telecom and power industries will work together on a
> potentially lucrative new revenue source. "It's like making two
> elephants dance," he said. 
> It's unclear whether PG&E would offer customers Internet access or
> whether the utility would lease its lines to one or more service
> providers. 
> All Gerszberg could say now is that the relatively inexpensive cost of
> hooking up to BPL -- a fraction of the price of wiring a home for cable,
> he said -- means that BPL will be competitively priced with other
> broadband systems. 
> +++ Here's the confusion between BPL and HomePlug being used to BPL's
> advantage, again.  
> "I'm pretty excited about it," he said. 
> Lechner, the ham-radio enthusiast, said he's looked at the improvements
> described by Gerszberg and there's still some question about their
> effectiveness. 
> +++ "...still some question..." is very weak. 
> For example, would a radio operator have to constantly broadcast his or
> her presence to the BPL system to gain access to the airwaves? Many
> operators prefer to listen to on-air chatter before piping up. Moreover,
> would the radio operator have to repeat the procedure on each and every
> frequency tuned in to? 
> +++ "Many operators prefer to listen to on-air chatter" - this won't
> generate a lot of sympathy preserving amateur radio. 
> "I'm taking a wait-and-see approach," Lechner said. "The industry can
> say what it wants. Nothing is clear yet." 
> +++ If we take a wait-and-see approach, we will lose. 
> David Lazarus' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He also
> can be seen regularly on KTVU's "Mornings on 2." Send tips or feedback
> to dlazarus at s... 
>     73, 
>         Dave, AA6YQ 
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