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Ofcom fails to sweep away power-line networking

Radio Society notices bump in carpet

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Ofcom's latest update on power-line networking is "dismissive", "inaccurate" and "fails to respond to complaints" according to the Radio Society, who just won't let the matter lie.

Ofcom recently updated its position on power-line networking, an update that focuses on how much the regulator is doing to address a tiny problem experienced by only a few people. However, that approach has riled the Radio Society of Great Britain, whose own complaint about the matter has been roundly ignored by the regulator.

The issue is interference generated by power-line networking kit, specifically Comtrend boxes supplied as part of BT's Vision service. Comtrend and Ofcom reckon the kit has passed the appropriate EU certifications, whereas the Radio Society contends that the Comtrend boxes only passed a draft version of one specification and fail to conform to another entirely. This would theoretically mean they cannot legally be supplied in the UK - regardless of any generated interference.

It's certainly true that the problem doesn’t affect a lot of people: Ofcom reckons it's only received 143 complaints - all of which came from radio amateurs - of which 104 have been resolved. Ofcom's statement also rather snootily observes that other users in the same band, such as the MOD and long range oceanic communications, haven't complained at all.

That could be down to the lack of military and maritime activity that takes place near the houses of BT Vision customers, or perhaps because Ham Radio operators work at much lower tolerances than most radio users. Whatever the reason, the clear inference from Ofcom is that the Ham Radio crowd likes making trouble.

The regulator does admit that power-line kit can generate interference, but claims that can be attributed to "the manner in which it is installed or operated", and that it will be examining the issue further by working with the Radio Society.

The Radio Society is pleased to hear it will be involved, but would have appreciated some sort of notice. The Society would also like a response to the letter it sent to Ofcom in July explaining, at some length (pdf), exactly how the Comtrend boxes don't even pretend to have passed proper certification and exceed legally-required emission levels.

The problem may not be affecting a lot of people, but if the equipment doesn't conform to the required standards then it might seem that even one complaint should be enough to stop the it being sold. If not, then it would seem pointless having the standards in the first place.

Or perhaps such standards only apply to small companies when their products impact lots of people, while large companies upsetting small groups of people can safely ignore the rules. ®

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