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Ofcom forced to publish tests on dodgy radio kit

FOI request prompts action

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Ofcom has been forced to disclose its own tests showing that powerline networking kit does breach the European EMC Directive, but still won't do anything to enforce compliance.

Despite claiming there was no evidence that PLT kit built by Comtrend and supplied by BT was breaching EU rules on electromagnetic emissions, the regulator has now been forced by a Freedom of Information request to publish independent research, commissioned by them, which shows exactly that.

The request was pursued by Peter Walker, a radio amateur who eventually had to take Ofcom to an ICO Tribunal to get the regulator to hand over the study - which appears to contradict Ofcom's line in stating that the equipment tested, which was supplied by Ofcom, does not comply with the standards required by EU legislation.

Ofcom justifies its decision not to publish that research, completed in 2008, on the basis that as it had decided not to prosecute there was no public interest in reporting the results. The regulator also claims to have more research which shows exactly the opposite, but won't provide any more details unless we submit another Freedom of Information request (which we will, of course, do).

Powerline networking sends radio signals over the mains electrical wiring of a house for home networking, but as the mains wiring isn't shielded those signals leak out and can knock out sensitive radio users such as HAM operators. The high-capacity kit now being sold uses a broader range of frequencies, increasing the problem and allowing it to take out FM radio too.

Ofcom has always maintained that there was no evidence to suggest the EU regulations were being breached. The regulator's own site still states "Ofcom has not so far found that there is a breach of the EMC essential requirements" despite the study which states, unequivocally, that the kit tested failed to meet those requirements.

When challenged on this apparently disparity Ofcom told us it wouldn't be updating the site, and relied on the "Tony Blair defence": claiming it has evidence to the contrary, but that it can't share that evidence for reasons that it won't explain; we just have to trust the regulator on this one.

Ofcom also explained that it didn't publish these reports in 2008 as "millions of people have these devices in their homes, and it wouldn't be in the public interest to remove them", pointing out that all the complaints came from a single lobby group so could safely be disregarded - best not band together in future, guys.

So if you don't fancy obeying the regulations then the route is obvious - hand out your kit for free (as BT does with Comtrend devices), get your opponents to organise so it looks like there's only one of them, then rely on the regulator to keep confidential any evidence that makes you look bad (in the public interest, of course). ®

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