There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Broadband monsters are going to eat your radios

The North American Shortwave Association has posted a draft of the comments it intends to submit to the FCC regarding the implementation of Broadband over Power Lines. There has been some notice in the blogging community of the concern of amateur radio operators over this, but hams are not the only people who will be affected should this technology be widely deployed. People who listen to international broadcasts via shortwave radio will likely see their ability to do so largely eliminated. There are over a million shortwave radios sold in the U.S. every year. People use these radios to listen to broadcasts from around the world, gaining access to points of view not available on domestic media. Shortwave radio allows expatriates living in the U.S. to listen to news and cultural programs from their homelands. The variety of music available on shortwave to people who want to explore beyond the confines of the pop music charts and whatever albums Wal-Mart carries is staggering. I've been a shortwave listener for more than 25 years, and the ability to listen to radio stations from around the world has enriched my life immensely. Shortwave frequencies have some characteristics that are not duplicated in any other part of the electromagnetic spectrum, in particular, the ability to reflect off the ionosphere surrounding our planet and thereby travel around the world. To treat this rare and unusual chunk of spectrum as if it was a junk yard is short-sighted in the extreme.

The FCC has already proceeded quite far in the process of okaying BPL. They're proposing to institute rules that assign the responsibility for identifying interference from BPL to listeners, rather than insisting, as has always been done in the past, that the producers go out of their way to prevent such interference. This stands the Part 15 rules that govern interference produced by electrical devices on their head. If this precedent stands, I expect Part 15 rules to be weakened elsewhere, resulting in such a mess of interference throughout the spectrum that over-the-air reception of radio signals may become impossible in large swathes. In other words, say goodbye to free TV.

The FCC is requesting comments on their Notice of Proposed Rule Making. NASWA has information on its site about how to submit comments, as does the ARRL, the organization that represents amateur radio operators.

(Full disclosure: I am on the board of directors of the North American Shortwave Association. I serve as its webmaster, and also do the production work for the monthly paper bulletin published by the club. In other words, I'm neck-deep in NASWA. You can't expect me to be unbiased on this.)

Posted at 4:30 AM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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