FCC Directs Manassas BPL System to Act Following Ham's Interference Complaint
Responding to a radio amateur's interference complaint, the FCC has directed the City of Manassas, Virginia, and its BPL system operator COMTek to conduct measurements to ensure its system complies with FCC Part 15 rules. The Commission also instructed the city to "resolve any continuing harmful interference." FCC Spectrum Enforcement Division Chief Joseph P. Casey on March 7 called on the city and COMTek to follow up on a complaint filed January 19 by ARRL member Dwight Agnew, AI4II. Agnew, who frequently travels through Manassas and operates mobile, alleges harmful BPL interference along Virginia Business Route 234.
Chris Jones - VK2ZDD
"I had been talking to a friend in Ohio while on my way home from work," Agnew told Casey via e-mail. "I could no longer hear him over the interference on 40 meters (7.2 MHz) while driving through the city. Was able to hear him after I left the city." Agnew characterized the effect of the interference as "like a giant, fuzzy mute."
COMTek operates the Manassas BPL system using Main.net equipment on frequencies between 4 MHz and 30 MHz over a city-owned power grid. The FCC wants the city to take measurements at locations Agnew cited in his complaint "during the hours of peak usage of the system by BPL customers" and submit them to the Commission within 30 days. Casey made it clear that the city "must either eliminate any continuing harmful interference" to Agnew's operations or reduce BPL emissions in the area to 20 dB below the Part 15 limit. In the past, the League has challenged the assumption that this level of attenuation necessarily will resolve interference issues.
To date, the FCC itself has not taken any measurements on any part of the Manassas BPL system. When radio amateurs have filed interference complaints involving BPL systems elsewhere, the Commission typically has tended instead to rely on measurements made by system operators.
If the city's measurements reveal any portion of the system to be out of compliance with Part 15, the FCC wants the report to describe what steps the city took to remediate the problem. Casey also wants Manassas and COMTek to advise of any plans they have to upgrade present "grandfathered" BPL equipment in the system to FCC-certified equipment.
In January, after COMTek failed to meet its own commitment to resolve longstanding interference complaints from local radio amateurs dating back nearly two years, the ARRL again demanded the system's immediate shutdown. Agnew's complaint is a new one, however.
In a separate letter March 7, Casey asked four Manassas radio amateurs with complaints already on file to provide "further information." Copies of that letter also went to ARRL, Manassas and COMTek. Casey made clear that Amateur Radio licensees addressed in his letter who want to continue pursuing their complaints must respond within 30 days or the FCC "will take no further action." In the same letter, the FCC, which has yet to respond to any of the earlier ham radio complaints, conceded that it continues to receive reports of harmful interference. It also noted that "ongoing discussions" involving the earlier complainants, the city and COMTek "have ended without a satisfactory resolution."
To expedite the information-gathering process, the ARRL on March 8 alerted all radio amateurs living in ZIP code 20110 (Manassas) that "now is the time" to submit harmful interference complaints relating to the city's BPL system.
"The first step is to verify that BPL is actually the source of the interference," ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, advised. He suggested radio amateurs contact George Tarnovsky, K4GVT--an earlier complainant--for assistance in determining if BPL is causing any harmful interference. Tarnovsky has volunteered to coordinate radio amateurs' efforts to address the interference. The League's correspondence reiterates the filing requirements Casey specified in his March 7 letter.
Sumner stressed that while the League's measurements and observations "have shown that the potential for harmful interference is widespread," the League is not asking amateurs to file BPL interference complains unless they have actually experienced BPL interference.
"Note that it is not just the amateur bands between 4 and 30 MHz that may be affected by BPL interference," Sumner cautioned. "Shortwave broadcasting, WWV reception and CB all may be affected." He asked complainants to copy their reports to the city, COMTek and ARRL.
"Manassas is often touted as a success story for BPL, while the truth is quite different," Sumner said. "BPL proponents gloss over or ignore the fact that the Manassas system has proved to be a significant source of radio spectrum pollution and that COMTek's efforts have failed to correct it."
Concluded Sumner: "With the FCC finally taking official notice of the presence of harmful interference in Manassas, the tide finally is beginning to turn."
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