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Powerline networking pops up in Parliament

But the song remains the same

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David Mowat has demonstrated that even MPs can't get a straight answer on powerline networking, although Ofcom has refined its initial explanation that not enough people care.

The MP for Warrington South posed a question to the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, asking about future regulation of Power Line Telecommunications (PLT) equipment. He got the usual explanation that only a few people have complained, and most of those have beards, and that all PLT kit conforms to the appropriate regulations so "no revision of the technical requirement is currently foreseen".

Which is odd when Ofcom's latest (updated) statement on the issue is clear that "There is no suitable standard which is directly applicable to PLT products", and goes on to refer to "future EU harmonisation of standards", though the explanation is more likely confusion than any deliberate conspiracy.

The problem is that the current regulations simply state that kit must not prevent other kit working properly, but that is a very subjective measure. If your DAB radio stops working (as the BBC demonstrated) you'll likely move it around the room to get a signal rather than complain to Ofcom about your neighbour's powerline networking kit, and even if you did work out what was going on you'd have to complain to the BBC, not Ofcom.

So it's hardly surprising that Ofcom has received only 272 reports of problems, and that most of them come from (often bearded) radio amateurs: few people would suspect neighbouring pairs of wall-warts were knocking out Radio 7. We know the BBC has received more complaints, thanks to an FoI request by Mark Salter, who is still pursuing Ofcom for details of those 272 complaints it admits to having received.

The Radio Society of Great Britain has just put out a statement on the March release of test data by Ofcom. That data showed PLT kit from Comtrend failing various tests, but (as Ofcom reminded us after our own coverage) that's irrelevant as long as the kit doesn't stop other kit "operating normally".

Interference is everywhere and, as Ofcom's new statement points out, we have no right to expect clean radio spectrum. Unfortunately we have a regulator which is unable to take any action until it receives complaints from a significant number of people who lack the skills or knowledge of what they should complain about and to whom they should complain – and so the problem builds. ®

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