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Ofcom Propose to Prosecute Owners of Bad Powerline Network Adapters

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 (8:18 am) - Score 12,614

The telecoms regulator has started a new consultation that proposes to expand the remit of its existing wireless telegraphy legislation in order to tackle electronic devices that create “undue interference“, which among other things could target consumers that make use of bad Powerline Adapters (HomePlug) for their home computer networks.

Powerline adapters (PLA) have become quite popular over the past few years, not least because of their unique ability to cleverly harness a homes existing power cables and, without sacrificing their primary purpose of distributing electricity, turn them into a home network (LAN) for your computers (modern PLA’s use spectrum in the 1.8MHz to 86MHz range).

Sometimes WiFi just won’t get the job done and running a network cable around the house might not be viable, which leaves a sizeable niche for Powerline to fill. But such devices, particularly older or imported models that often didn’t comply as rigidly to EU rules, were also notorious for creating electromagnetic interference for other devices that needed to use nearby wireless radio spectrum.

In the main, interference from PLA’s mostly impacted radio hams using the hf short wave bands and tended to be quite localised due to the low power of related devices. We recall some examples of BTVision shipping older Comtrend adapters several years ago, which made some people unhappy. In a few cases similar kit was also blamed for causing interference with sound systems, DAB/FM radio and even broadband ADSL lines, among other things.

Today such hardware is much more compliant with modern standards, but that’s not to say that some manufacturers won’t ship dodgy or even faulty products that could create excessive interference. Ofcom’s proposed regulations, which are intended to address situations that exist outside of the EU’s related EMC Directive and RTTE Directive, will also tackle more than PLA adapters.

In fact between 2013 and 2014 the regulator said that 13 different types of apparatus were “found to be causing undue interference“, which Ofcom said “identified a distinct and important need for intervention“. Funnily enough the Government’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, once similarly warned that PLA kit was “likely to cause a detrimental affect to part of the core business of this department“. Oops.

The 13 Apparatus Responsible for Undue Interference

Control Equipment
Domestic Electric Cables
High Voltage Power Cables
Industrial Scientific Medical Equipment
IT Equipment
IT Power Supply Unit
Lighting
Power Line Adaptor
Power Supply Unit Battery Charger
Security Equipment
Transformer
TV Aerial Amplifier
TV Equipment

Over the years we’ve seen a number of examples where apparatus, such as a faulty AC adapter or flashing Christmas tree lights, have caused significant interference for other services and devices (sometimes affecting multiple homes). In the past Ofcom has struggled to tackle these, but under the new rules they could act if “we think the apparatus has caused, is causing or is likely to cause undue interference to wireless telegraphy including wireless telegraphy used for the purposes of a safety of life service, or for a purpose on which the safety of a person, or of a ship, aircraft or vehicle may depend.”

Any such notice served upon the owner of such equipment may prohibit the use of the related apparatus, while failure to comply with the notice would be considered a criminal offence under section 58 of the Act (e.g. fines of up to £5,000 or 3 years in prison). The Proposed Regulations will apply in the United Kingdom and will not extend to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Ofcom’s consultation will remain open for responses until 5pm on 16th February 2015 and the regulator intends to publish a statement on the matter by March 2015. It’s hoped the new rules could be introduced by May 2015.

NOTE: The picture used in this article is a general illustration of a PLA adapter and is not a specific example of bad hardware.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
14 Responses
  1. tonyp says:

    I’m glad to see OFCOM tightening up on these adapters. The wiring of power cables can act as a good antennae for transmission of RF. Some lengths of cable may be accidentally at submultiples of the ‘transmitted’ wavelength which will be very effective radiators of unlicenced RF energy. Why worry about mobile phone brain damage?

    1. Bob says:

      OFCOM cannot do much if they carry the CE mark. That indicates it is approved

  2. david says:

    PROSECUTE ME @ss Ofcom haven’t a damn clue

    1. Steve Jones says:

      If you read the article, you’ll see prosecution would only follow if somebody was served with a notice that they are operating equipment which is interfering with legitimate use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and they refuse to comply. Frankly, if anybody does have non-compliant or faulty equipment to the detriment of others, then they are being selfish. The electromagnetic spectrum is a resource for everybody. After all, we don’t allow individuals to fly-tip.

      As it looks like prosecution only follows as a last resort, despite what the headline implies. So if somebody is operating some piece of electrical equipment (including, but not limited to, powerline adapters it will not be an offence as such.

  3. No Clue says:

    Are they going to prosecute the company of such devices or the individual using them? How is an individual supposed to know which adapters are “Ofcom” friendly when buying?
    Seems a bit stupid if they are going to prosecute individuals, when they could just ban the sale of devices they think cause issues.

  4. telecom engineer says:

    The best way to deal, without spending vast sums, is to obligate Openreach to investigate REIN and give them authorisation to disconnect end users who have rein transmitting kit. Also accept requests from Openreach to Ofcom to investigate and prosecute those who refuse to cease using such kit.

    At present rein investigation is a best efforts service. Also, although 99% of people will assist in locating and removing faulty kit, there are those who either value the continued use of the faulty kit more than their and neighnours broadband or worse, even take glee knowing the grief they are causing.

    Hard enough to locate the kit, convince the person it is faulty (as often still operates its intended function) but to insist on removal, especially as you have no authority to be in their house in the first place, is untenable.

    Its about time something was done.

  5. Bob says:

    I doubt OFCONM can prosecute the users as the Powerline Adapters carry the CE mark certify compliance with all the relevant CE directive so as such it is free to put in the market place.

    The only action OFCOM can take is to carry out their own tests to see if the do meet the CE directives if they do the only avenue open is to take up with the EU

    1. Steve Jones says:

      The article is misleading. The owners would be served with a notice if any equipment was breaching interference rules. They would only be prosecuted if they did not comply. It could easily apply to malfunctioning, certified, equipment as well as those which were not manufactured to meet the standards.

      It’s also pretty clear that this isn’t going to involve large numbers of prosecutions. There’s not the manpower to do it among other things. Tracking down interference (especially if it’s intermittent) is difficult at the best of times. It will surely only apply where significant problems are being experienced.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Of course I should have said the article’s headline was misleading. The content is clear.

  6. Greg says:

    Ofcom can get stuffed if they say I can’t use my powerline adapters. If they say
    my powerline adapters aren’t compliant and I’m no longer allowed to use them,
    they can damn well buy me some new ones that are compliant.

    Not a cat in hell’s chance I’m prepared to go back to using crap unreliable wi-fi.
    I’ll use whatever type of networking equipment I choose in MY home to run my
    network with. If Ofcom say otherwise, they can simply DO ONE!

    1. Steve Jones says:

      All equipment already has to meet mandated standards.

      “All electronic products placed on the market in the UK – including PLT devices – are required to comply with the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2006 (Statutory Instrument number 2006/3418) (the “EMC Regulations”). This implements an EU Directive (204/108/EC).”

      If yours don’t, then your claim is against the supplier, not Ofcom.

    2. X66yh says:

      Keyboard warrior alert!

  7. Tom says:

    A faulty netgear plt plug at one of my friends houses wiped out adsl for about 5 houses a few years back.

    1. john says:

      that’s good that 😀

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