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Power Networking United States

FCC's Duplicity On BPL Revealed 97

Posted by kdawson
from the cooking-the-books dept.
eldavojohn writes "Ars has a summary of the curious events surrounding the death of broadband over power lines (BPL). We've discussed BPL's trials and advances here many times. The Federal Communications Commission's go-ahead was halted last year by a federal court, after a suit by the American Radio Relay League over claims of unacceptable radio interference from BPL. The DC Court of Appeals judge noted, 'There is little doubt that the [FCC] deliberately attempted to exclude from the record evidence adverse to its position.' The ARRL's FOIA request to obtain non-redacted documents finally bore fruit under the Obama administrations more open FOIA guidelines. The ARRL's preliminary analysis of the released documents point out a few critical areas where the FCC redacted data that is clearly adverse to the claims of BPL proponents. By rights, this ought to lay BPL to rest once and for all." A story at Broadband Reports notes that BPL is dying on its own, as most of the vendors who had been testing it "have since moved on to promote smart electrical grid functionality."
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FCC's Duplicity On BPL Revealed

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  • by Jerrry (43027) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:15AM (#27966001)

    BPL isn't really (and never was) about delivering Internet service over electric lines. It was geared more towards smart power meters that the utilities could read remotely rather than sending an army of meter readers out to every house in the country once a month to read the meters.

    • by pe1rxq (141710) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:18AM (#27966057) Homepage Journal

      You don't need much bandwidth to read out a few digits....

      The 'B' in BPL stands for Broadband, which was definitly intended to be used to send consumers large amount of porn....

      • by TinBromide (921574) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:24AM (#27966143)
        Broadband may mean high bandwidth in most marketing contexts, but it also means sending multiple signals over a single line. I doubt that they're sending those digits modulated into the 60hz AC current so they're multiplexing the line in a broadband fashion. Broadband may still apply if each house has its own meter frequency that is sent over a single trunk line coming from the transformer up to the local power station regardless of the bandwidth used.
        • Actually, the way they do this is using an address layer like most any other protocol. A bunch of different topologies exist, but generally speaking, each monitored node will be uniquely addressable with a value embedded in the data frames rather than just by frequency. Multiple frequencies are used to dynamically adjust to the presence of various types of noise.
          • I was wondering if say MAC or IP address topologies could be applicable to BPL. BTW aren't certain ISP's already doing this? I could swear I've seen something that looks like an average AC plug with an ethernet port where the normal "tail" would originate. What other purpose would such a "plug" have, if not to transfer data via "power conduits"?

            -Oz
            • They only lean toward MAC/IP topologies in BPL. In lower-bandwidth scenarios (metering) they go a variety of ways, largely because extended distances mean signals from a given node won't be visible across the entire network, which forces a repeater mechanism of some kind. It gets complex fairly quickly, especially in commercial systems, where huge banks of fluorescent lights create some unpredictable behavior.

              Making things worse are the customers who have heard about BPL and say, "Why can't you just replace
      • by TinBromide (921574) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:26AM (#27966183)
        PS, porn from the power company, that is both shocking and electrifying... I'm sure I'm going to catch some static from that, but I couldn't care watt happens to my current karma because of these charged puns.
      • by Joehonkie (665142) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:27AM (#27966205) Homepage
        Broadband means sending multiple signals over different frequencies on one line, as opposed to baseband which is one signal on one frequency. It actually has no technical meaning that involves necessarily high bandwidth.
        • by omnichad (1198475) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:37AM (#27966377) Homepage
          Sounds like my old 14.4 modem was broadband.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Yes that's ultimately where the term originates for data communications. "Narrowband" referred to the 0-to-8000 hertz bandwidth of a telephone line, whereas "broadband" referred to a DSL line that has no upper limit (except the increasing noise as you go higher in frequency).

            Now broadband is little more than a marketing term which means "fast". It's gradually lost any technical definition. BPL aka Broadband over Phone Lines could just as easily be called "Fast Internet over phone lines". That's really a

          • Not quite. simply utilizing different frequencies within a single base (i.e. sending 00110011 vs 01010101 and so on) is not the same as utilizing several frequency bands.

            Imagine if you could tune to every AM radio station available at once, but instead of music, they were sending information. That is similar to downstream broadband. While your modem is limited in that it can only listen to 1 station and get the audible range of frequencies from 20-15000hz (not sure what the filtering cut off is exactly), b
    • You're years behind the times as that army is already virtually gone. They've long since been replaced by meters that can be read by simply driving down the street and interrogating them as they go by.

      • by The Moof (859402)
        Some area are even farther ahead than your drive-by method, and use a phone service to simply dials into the meter and gets readings. No humans needed.
      • by yawn9 (848734)
        Long since? My meter just got upgraded to have this capability two months ago! South St Louis City got upgraded sometime last year, and last I checked they were one of the 20 biggest cities in the country..
    • Now, all we need is BoWL, Broadband over Water Lines!

    • Jerry, with such an obvious "spin" statement, I have to wonder which one of the FCC's pet BPL investors you represent or work for?

      From day one of this fiasco, BPL was touted as the great "last mile" technology for rural America. It was to make easy, fast and reliable Internet connectivity available to Ma and Pa Kettle. Now, that the FCC has been proven to be complicit in foisting this ineffective and flawed technology (that has been similarly abandoned by almost every other country that's tried it) on a g
    • by Sandbags (964742)

      My meter is read digitally, has been for 4 years. No one comes to my house. I'm not using BoPL.

  • SOP for the FCC (Score:4, Insightful)

    by R2.0 (532027) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:20AM (#27966075)

    The FCC picks winners and losers all the time. Ask the folks who had private mobile radio licenses when the FCC decided that the frequencies could be better utilized - by Nextel. Most of those licenses were for local emergency services, and we all know how well Nextel worked for them when the time came.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah but the FCC should pick the winners and losers based on all available data, and then reach a rational conclusion. There's nothing rational about pre-judging who will be the winner, and then refusing to look at data that shows the winner has flaws. That's more like a religion than a proper-operating government. Faith and blind devotion to a cause, not reason.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        Faith and blind devotion to a cause, not reason.

        In other words, the Democratic and Republican parties?

      • by Intron (870560)
        They do select on the best available data. For example, this selection had 19 billion [fcc.gov] pieces of data submitted.
      • by R2.0 (532027)

        I think I should add to the end of my previous statement the following:

        "... when Nextel's network collapsed and first responders couldn't communicate, and they had gotten rid of their old radios because Nextel promised the FCC service capability they were never able to deliver, and which was apparent to everybody, but the FCC bought off on it anyway".

      • Um.... when it means the difference between "free internet access" (as it should be) and being able to extort people for up to $99 a month for it...well, you are smart enough to guess who wins that one. As hardware, monitoring, and reliability are the primary justifications for internet usage fees, you can also see that NO existing ISP could compete with internet made available over power lines...

        -Oz
        • Yeah except that the FCC *supports* BPL. That kinda blows your whole "FCC works for the highest bidder" theory to hell.

          • sorry I was under the impression that facts concerning BPL were left out in order to favor other means of transmission....suppose I need to read more of the comments before commenting myself. -Oz
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:26AM (#27966171) Journal

    *This* is why I don't want the government running businesses (mail, trains, hospitals, schools). The people in power use that power to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs, and they push agendas we are forced to adopt (like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything). It's a rigged system, a monopoly, not freedom or liberty.

    The FCC did exactly the same thing with the Whitespace/TV Band devices -

    - they ignored testimony and in-the-field research that demonstrated such devices interfere with television reception. They shoved through the okay on this, and in a few years, over-the-air reception of television (or FM radio) will be near-impossible. Instead people will just see/hear digital hash because the teenager next door is surfing on channel 8 with his Ipod. The FCC has essentially killed free-to-view TV/radio.

    I hate monopolies, whether it's a private monopoly like Comcast or a government one. A free market is preferable in almost-all cases. We need the FCC monopoly over the radio spectrum, but that doesn't mean we need to extend FCC-style corruption to other areas. We need fewer monopolies, not more.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:28AM (#27966213) Homepage

      *This* is why I don't want the government running businesses (mail, trains, hospitals, schools). The people in power use that power to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs, and they push agendas we are forced to adopt (like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything). It's a rigged system, a monopoly, not freedom or liberty.

      But that's the problem. The goverment *isn't* running the show, private industry is.

      Imagine what your country would be like if the RIAA were in charge of running the roads.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ColdWetDog (752185)

        Imagine what your country would be like if the RIAA were in charge of running the roads.

        I'm sure they would damn well shut down those "performances" of 120 dB thuds coming out of cars driven by dazed and deaf teenagers. I'd cut them a significant degree of slack for that alone.

        Now, quit driving your Rice Krispy or whatever on my lawn.

      • by paganizer (566360)

        Excellent Sig.

        Your analogy on the roads is a little...strange. outside of Federal roads, most localities in the U.S. are responsible for maintaining their own roads, and it's usually a blatant crony deal.

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          Your analogy on the roads is a little...strange. outside of Federal roads, most localities in the U.S. are responsible for maintaining their own roads, and it's usually a blatant crony deal.

          Didn't know that. In that case, you already see the problem ;-)

          • Another flaw with your analogy is that RIAA is only a threat because government gives them the power to sue $150,000 per song downloaded. Without that collusion with the government, RIAA would be powerless.

            So the real threat is not RIAA, which by itself is no more harmful than a puppy. The real threat is the government and its use of force or coercion against the citizens. Giving the government even MORE power is only going to make things worse. A better solution is to make government impotent, then the

            • by Gordonjcp (186804)

              The real threat is the government and its use of force or coercion against the citizens.

              You don't think private companies can't use force? Suppose I own the private road that runs past your house. I can charge you as much as I like to drive on that. So, now I want $1000 per week, or your car doesn't leave the drive. If you don't pay, I'll just confiscate your car and crush it. Legal? Not legal? Doesn't matter, I'll just pay your $1000 to a lawyer. You can't afford to fight back.

              Under all possible c

              • >>>You don't think private companies can't use force? Suppose I own the private road

                You don't. The People own the road (collectively) and the government administers it. So you example is non-sequitor and irrelevant. I was discussing businesses where competition exists, and why such competition between thousands of businesses is preferable to having an Uncle Sam monopoly. The fomer gives freedom-of choice, while the latter does not.

                Monopoly also encourages lack-of-innovation. Why should a monop

                • by Gordonjcp (186804)

                  Why should a monopoly government school improve itself? Even if it's lousy, it still gets the money.

                  Because in any sane system (like, pretty much everywhere outside the US, it seems) if it doesn't get the results, it doesn't get the money.

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        Imagine what your country would be like if the RIAA were in charge of running the roads.

        The difference between RIAA and the Government is that RIAA can't send well armed goons to knock down your door if you choose not to do business with them......

        • You should probably tell them that [laweekly.com]. It looks like their prior strategy of just borrowing actual feds for raids wasn't good enough for them.
          • by Shakrai (717556)

            Sounds like the man should have had the balls to stand up for his rights rather than meekly surrender them to a bunch of private citizens with zero actual power. If they attempted that with me I would tell them to fuck off and come back with an actual court order or law enforcement officer. If they persisted I'd take whatever steps I deemed appropriate to defend myself.

          • The "RIAA mall cops" have no more power to arrest me than you do. This news does not cause fear to rattle my bones. House Speaker Pelosi on the other hand.....

            - Tax
            - Jail
            - Draft into army and send you to die in some mudhole in 'Nam or Afghanistan

            I love my country but fear my Congress. And my president (both current and previous).

          • It is funny that there was not a public outcry at the wanna-be cop's statement about "These people change names..." figure jesse and al would be on that like stink on shit, or is this newspaper not a liberal rag?
      • by mangu (126918)

        Imagine what your country would be like if the RIAA were in charge of running the roads

        I think you are confusing things a bit, the problem with the RIAA is not that it's a private organization, but that it's a monopoly.

        Private roads exist in many countries. In France and Italy, where I sometimes travel on business, the main roads are private, you pay for each kilometer you drive. The system works fine, at least the pavement is in *much* better shape than most of California's state freeways.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        >>>The goverment *isn't* running the show, private industry is.

        I cannot make any sense of your sentence, unless I conclude you have your head buried in the sand. Government runs the local mail business, they run the K-12 schools, and they run passenger rail, and in every case it's a monopoly with all the negative facets thereof (lack of choice, poor service, mistreatment of customers).

        Perhaps you were thinking of healthcare, which you are correct is still private, but that's still better than a go

        • not really (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The alleged housing bubble collapsed because they took simple mortgages, then sliced them up and sold slices that contained bits and pieces of them on hedged bets, mixed in with such things as insurance bets, student loans, all sorts of oddball stuff, with more borrowed alleged money, then they did it again and again, up to *twenty times*. They took a mortgage and made believe if was worth ten times what it was and then proceeded to bet against each other. When a lot of these bets came due, they didn't have

          • by MikeURL (890801)
            Sad to post so insightful a comment as AC. However you are correct sir. To bail out the ARM and other "troubled assets", and by bail out I mean buy their homes for them OUTRIGHT, would have cost far less than what has already been spent to prop up the derivative players who did exactly what you described.

            Instead the treasury has transferred a big chunk of the world's wealth to the derivative players to keep them going. I'm sure part of that was because a failure of every bank all at once would have be
          • >>>The alleged housing bubble collapsed because they took simple mortgages, then sliced them up and sold slices that contained bits and pieces of them

            Doesn't matter. Even if the mortgages had been sold whole, there would still be numerous defaults, and still be a bursting of the housing bubble. (And yes there was a bubble - historical housing average is $110,000. At the peak housing averaged $170,000 - it was overinflated.) So who encouraged banks to make poor loans to high-risk poor folks? Co

        • by stang (90261)

          Imagine if your healthcare was run like Amtrak or the DMV. What a nightmare that would be.

          Actually, I like my DMV. Right down the street, extended hours of operation (including Saturdays), website for most things (and timely processing if you go through the mail), lots of friendly people, short wait times.

          Compare this with my HMO. I can get in easily enough, but my doctors are so swamped trying to cover as many patients (and trying to make as much money) as possible that it's usually 30-40 minutes after the

          • HMOs are just as bad as DMVs.

            And who invented the HMO? That's right. Congress. Yet another wonderful piece-of-shit brought to you by your government. This is why I refuse to join an HMO.* And why I wish the government would stop mucking-around with our healthcare.

            *
            *I simply pay cash, which is only $200-300 a year, and much cheaper than an HMO.

          • P.S. Last time I went to the Maryland DMV it took 3 hours to have my picture taken. Contrast that with the private organization called AAA, which gave me a passport photo in just ten minutes.

            I hate the DMV. I hate Amtrak. I hate Government Mail (which needed yet another taxpayer bailout). I hate government schools which teach nothing. I hate monopolies.

    • ...whether it's a private monopoly like Comcast...

      I think Verizon is showing that isn't the case anymore.

      • A duopoly's not much better. For both Cable and Phone internet providers, they are granted an exclusive license by the local government, which means blocking-out competition.

      • by compro01 (777531)

        Yes, in select areas. I see 20 states that have no FIOS at all and and lots of major cities lacking it.

        FIOS map [dslreports.com]

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:44AM (#27966493) Journal
      While I agree that the FCC is riddled with rot, and I'm very much in favor of freedom as a goal, the notion that the free market is more honest seems dubious at best.

      The trouble is, private entities are generally quite responsive to customer requirements. This is their virtue, in most cases; but it can also be a huge vice. Institutional Review Boards, for instance, are supposed to verify that clinical trials are being conducted with adequate safeguards for the welfare of research subjects. The companies that hire them, though, are attempting to buy IRB approval, which is what they want, not ethical oversight, which is what they need. Shockingly enough, "customer service" quickly goes from basic efficiency to telling the customer exactly what they want to hear. Arbitration agents tend to work the same way. Any large company that habitually includes mandatory binding arbitration clauses in its contracts(this almost definitely means your bank, your credit card company, often your telco, quite frequently your car dealership, among others) will be a repeat buyer of arbitration services, probably hundreds or thousands of cases a year. You, on the other hand, might be buying a few instances a lifetime. Wholly unsurprisingly, arbiters overwhelmingly find in favor of their real customers, and ones that don't typically find themselves without work.

      Regulatory capture is a real, and very important, problem; but government corruption is only one of its forms and it crops up, more or less inescapably, anywhere you have a situation where somebody needs to be told something they don't want to hear in order to protect the rights and interests of others. More specifically, it usually crops up when one party has a small, but extremely concentrated, interest in something, and a much larger party has a larger; but highly diffuse countervailing interest in the same thing. It is a hard problem.
    • *This* is why I don't want the government running businesses (mail, trains, hospitals, schools). The people in power use that power to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs, and they push agendas we are forced to adopt (like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything). It's a rigged system, a monopoly, not freedom or liberty.

      You're deluding yourself. *Whoever* is running businesses, government or private, will use what whatever power they have to censor informatio

      • *This* is why I don't want the government running businesses (mail, trains, hospitals, schools). The people in power use that power to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs, and they push agendas we are forced to adopt (like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything). It's a rigged system, a monopoly, not freedom or liberty.

        You're deluding yourself. *Whoever* is running businesses, government or private, will use what whatever power they have to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs or agendas and use whatever power they have to force those beliefs and agendas.

        I'll second that idea. Anyone that thinks that any private company will run any public institution with less corruption or self-interest are extremely myopic. At least if it's in the public sector, we have a chance at changing those in charge. Maybe years and years ago there was proper separation between public and private sector...but as far I as see it, the guys in charge don't really want it that way. (Mods that disagree: Before you mark me a troll/flamebait go and look up, as an example, Donald Rumsf

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Big Boss (7354)

      With a decent signal, whitespace devices are supposed to avoid that channel. So in areas served with a local transmitter, that shouldn't be an issue. Those that will be negatively effected will be those in "fringe" areas. While that sucks, it is a small minority and they were likely receiving out of area transmissions. IMO, if the signal can't be received with "rabbit ears", it should be OK to use another device there. That might mean that some people have to get better antennas for TV. And some might lose

    • by sjames (1099)

      As bad as government agencies are, businesses running things for profit can and does cause MORE damage. When corporations censor facts they don't like, they're not even breaking the law and there is no FOIA that might eventually force them to cough up the evidence. Just look at the fine job the Federal Reserve did keeping the economy stable!

      Corporations don't even have to maintain a facade of being primarily in the public interest, much less actually BEING in the public interest.

      Of course, it IS possible to

    • by geekoid (135745)

      You seem to overlook the fact that the government runs those things for more efficiently then private industry does.

      "(like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything)"

      Specifically caused by government agencies having less power in the schools.

      The free market is too prone to failure to be running certain services.

      How do you propose there not be a monopoly on water delivery to the home?
      Every get there own pipes?
      Industry will also cut corners to shore up profits, Raises prices on a w

    • *This* is why I don't want the government running businesses (mail, trains, hospitals, schools). The people in power use that power to censor information contrary to their personal beliefs, and they push agendas we are forced to adopt (like the "feel good" philosophy that is failing to teach our kids anything). It's a rigged system, a monopoly, not freedom or liberty.

      And private people would never try and force a personal agenda, or belief system, (like the young earthers, or IDiots), on society.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:27AM (#27966203)

    It's still working in Manassas, Virginia. If you want full duplex 32 kbps for $24.95/month that is.

    The contractor, Comtec, that ran the program has pulled out and it is now managed directly through the city's utilities department.

  • by MrSaxonite (1521355) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:36AM (#27966335)

    The real problem with broadband over powerline is you need alot of bandwidth, at the low frequencys that are called the AM band, and the shortwave band; which would not be so bad, if the cables they used for this were like the one the cable tv company used, but the powerlines are not shielded cables, anything that goes over them leaks energy all over the place, basicly overloading all the cheap electronics with rf recievers in them, yet unlike the cable tv companies, the power companies don't think you want to steal their signals... although I've read of many stealing power when the lines go right over their house or barns, which have huge transformers hidden in em

    it's bugs us ham radio people the most, cause, the way to test if it was causing crazy ass static to overwhlem all the nice signals we used to get from foriegn countries, (which is how we make our free long distance phone calls, be it analog, or digital, wheather talking, typing, or sending pictures) was not to listen to the radio, no, instead it was the signal level at the closest powerlines and the fcc's version of how quick the signal is supposed to drop off.... hence this ugly argument, and the desire to hide the facts as to how it was decided.

    • by p51d007 (656414)
      I'm not into the HF part of amateur radio, but into the vh/uhf, digital aspects, but a lot of the guys I yack with on the radio that do use HF were scared to death that these idiots at the FCC were going to let this go through. Someone tried to say that in an emergency, the ham radio community would still work, because the power would be down in the area where BPL was used, so interference wouldn't be an issue. I had to explain to the moron that, well, that's fine, but what about the person on the other en
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      although I've read of many stealing power when the lines go right over their house or barns, which have huge transformers hidden in em

      That's an urban legend. The Mythbusters tried it [wikipedia.org] and were able to steal a whooping eight millivolts.

    • I didn't understand most of what you said (especially paragraph two which read like English that's not). In brief, I think you were saying BPL turns the power lines into giant transmitters, and these transmitters block AM, Shortwave, FM, TV, Cellphone, and other wireless communications. In other words, it's a bad idea.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        I think you were saying BPL turns the power lines into giant transmitters, and these transmitters block AM, Shortwave, FM, TV, Cellphone, and other wireless communications.

        That's pretty much it.

        in other words, it's a bad idea.

        That's a mild way of putting it.

        If you have BPL near you, you will not be able to use any kind of radio equipment that uses anything below microwave frequencies. Mobile phones might work, wifi might work, VHF radio and down will *not* work.

  • Good Riddance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brain1 (699194) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:36AM (#27966349)
    It's about time this whole lamebrain flawed "technology" finally was put in the grave. There was a lot more than just Amateur Radio at stake. Military, Shipboard, and Aircraft use the 3-30 MHz band as well an I think they wouldn't have been as nice as the ARRL.
  • "Most of the BPL vendors the FCC was presumably working for have since moved on to promote smart electrical grid functionality."

    So much for an improved grid.

    Steve

  • Yay. After seeing the reports on what it would do to the radio spectrum, I was worried some guy in his office somewhere would just stamp the 'OK' on it. Thank you ARRL and all involved. Maybe I should renew my membership now... meh.
  • They're all corrupted !!! Kind Regards, DaForum http://www.da-forum.com/ [da-forum.com]
  • The last thing the USA wants is the next big thing entering from some up start. Some small foreign company giving the US power sector real a entry into a nice monopoly/duopoly.
    Real competition down every street ? Americans might get a taste for it and look for more in other sectors.

    The NSA has grown up with generations of US telcos. Everybody is happy. Nothing slips, leaks, is found or talked about.

    What happens if a warning goes up in Berlin, Beijing, Johannesburg or London that a pipe is blocked?. "Ou

  • Try http://www.arrl.org/ [arrl.org] for original stories. If we had another 4 years of Bush we would be in a world of hurt. Do nothing, tell nothing. The court made an 180 degree turnaround after reading the FCC's non-redacted script, just as anyone will. A small group of geeks can make a difference.
  • I am glad we have put BPL to rest, at least for now. I have seen the video demonstrations from hams (I am an amateur operator my self) driving around the BPL test sites showing the kind of interference caused with these systems. I also work for a water utility. There is no need for power companies to spend truck loads of money just to read meters. They can setup, easily, radio read meters where a very few number of people can drive around and read OR a wireless mesh network in which NO ONE has to leave

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