Bruce Sugarberg bsugarberg at CORE.COM
Sat Apr 3 14:02:43 EST 2004


After expressing "grave concerns" to the FCC last fall about the
interference potential of Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now appears to be backing away
from that strong stance. Now a part of the Department of Homeland Security,
FEMA filed comments December 4 in response to the FCC's April 2003 Notice of
Inquiry in ET Docket 03-104. Many have cited those remarks in their own
comments opposing BPL deployment. In a January 8 letter that's now part of
the BPL Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in ET Docket 04-37, Michael D.
Brown, the US Department of Homeland Security's under secretary for
emergency preparedness and response, told FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell
that FEMA wanted to "clarify the record" to ensure that its filing was not
"misunderstood or misconstrued."

"We have become aware that certain distinct approaches to BPL may have the
potential to cause interference to FEMA's high frequency radio
communications system," Brown said in his January letter. "However, we
continue to study the BPL proceeding and have not concluded that there is a
material interference problem or that all of the distinct technological
approaches to BPL pose a risk of interference."

The FEMA official said his agency expects that there may be ways to provide
BPL's benefits "without compromising the emergency communications
capabilities available to FEMA."

The January letter stands in stark contrast to FEMA's predictions last
December that "the introduction of unwanted interference from the
implementation of BPL technology into the high frequency radio spectrum will
result in significant detriment to the operation of FEMA radio systems."
Saying such interference could "directly impair the safety of life and
property," the agency also had recommended the FCC beef up its Part 15 rules
to ensure no increase in interference levels to existing FCC or
NTIA-licensed communication systems.

"The purported benefits of BPL in terms of expanded services in certain
communications sectors do not appear to outweigh the benefit to the overall
public of HF radio capability as presently used by government, broadcasting
and public safety users," FEMA asserted last December in comments filed on
the agency's behalf by Chief Information Officer Barry C. West.

BPL also could render such "essential communications services" as the Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), the Military Affiliate Radio System
(MARS) and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) useless, FEMA said. FEMA and ARRL are
signatories to a Memorandum of Understanding that focuses on how Amateur
Radio personnel may coordinate with the agency to support emergency
communications functions. FEMA's December comments also referenced ARRL's
"Interference to PLC systems from Amateur Radio Operation."

Brown's January letter conveys a much milder, conciliatory tone. "We know
that the FCC shares our appreciation for the importance of reliable
communications in the context of disaster recovery and are confident that
the Office of Engineering and Technology's technical assessment, as well as
the Commission's regulations implementing BPL, will be sensitive to this
issue," he concluded. "FEMA stands ready to assist in any way the Commission
might find helpful."

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