It sounds like a great idea in theory: turn the electrical grid into a network for broadband data delivery. No new wires to run or jacks to install; the power plug becomes your express-ramp to the InfoMation SupaHiway.

There’s just one problem: because most of the power grid doesn’t use insulated wires, the data sent through Broadband over Power Line (BPL) systems (as an RF signal that rides the wire) radiates into the surroundings – to the detriment of any user of HF radio frequencies within a half-mile to a mile of the power line cum data pipe.

The interference from BPL systems has been well-documented, both by amateur radio enthusiasts and other concerned spectrum users. During trial runs of limited BPL service in communities across the country, it hashed shortwave radio signals, aviation frequencies, public safety channels, a military frequency or two, and even demonstrated the potential to interfere with analog TV channels two through six.

Nevertheless, the FCC last Thursday voted to modify RF interference protection standards to allow the national rollout of BPL service. In a manner similar to the FCC’s endorsement of In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital audio broadcasting (where it was unclear how the system would perform “in the real world” yet was still given the go-ahead), the Commissioners were fully cognizant of the interference problems but felt the technology was just too cool to leave to languish.

Oh, they did modify the initial BPL deployment plan to forbid the use of technology which can harm government, military, public safety, and aviation channels – but hams, shortwave broadcasters, and TV stations broadcasting on channels two through six are on their own. Supposedly there is an “administrative process” ready to go to address interference complaints, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to design the interference problems out of the technology before deploying it? The FCC supposedly did a technical study of BPL and interference, but for some reason it never released the results.

Not to mention that DSL and cable modems work just fine, thanks, and other broadband data delivery technologies that cause no interference (like wi-fi and fiber optics) are also being deployed. No, the utilities need a new revenue stream, so let’s let them turn their patchwork infrastructure (which has a hard enough time carrying current) into one giant radiating antenna. Listen for the hash in your neighborhood soon.