FCC commissioners yesterday unanimously approved rules for broadband over power line (BPL) technology, which policymakers hope will provide the elusive third broadband access line into most U.S. homes and reduce—or eliminate—the need to regulate the broadband industry.

Certainly the most outspoken opposition to BPL has come from the amateur radio community, which has claimed that BPL will create interference with its operations. FCC Chairman Michael Powell called amateur radio operators “an important resource” and expressed hope that the rules the FCC has created will protect them, but he said obstructing the deployment of BPL is not an option.

“The potential for the American economy is too great—is too enormous, is too potentially groundbreaking—to sit idly by and allow any claim or any possible speculative fear to keep us from trying to drive this technology and drive America into the broadband future,” Powell said.

Powell believes the ubiquity of the U.S. electrical grid makes BPL an ideal platform to provide affordable broadband nationwide, particularly in currently underserved rural areas. It also offers the promise of network-based competition with DSL and cable-modem service as a wired broadband option.

“In addition to universal service, we talk so often about competition—well, here it is,” Powell said. “All economists will tell you magic happens when you find the third way.” But amateur radio proponents question the economic benefits of BPL.

“If it’s not economical to run fiber or cable, they’re certainly not going to be putting repeaters on power lines every two miles to get a signal out to one guy’s house, get him to pay 30 bucks a month for the service and then expect to make money on it,” said David Patton special assistant to the CEO for the Amateur Radio Relay League. “It’s just a bad investment.”

Patton said there is some question as to whether electrical utilities will be able to deploy BPL—“They can’t even supply power. There are power outages everywhere,” he said—and added that existing technologies such as microwave, satellite and Wi-Fi would do a better job of bringing broadband services to rural customers without the interference concerns.

“When you walk around the library with your [Wi-Fi-enabled] computer, you’re using frequencies that are pretty innocuous,” Patton said. “Satellite service could be cheaper, but if you really want broadband, you can get it [with satellite] pretty much anywhere you want.”

Patton said the ARRL board is considering its options, which could include putting pressure on Congress to draft legislation that would protect amateur radio operators and challenging the FCC’s order in court, though that would come “somewhere down the line.”

In other news, the FCC allocated spectrum in the 2.0 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands for the relocation of federal operations that had been using the 1.7 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands. These airwaves previously had been reallocated to private sector entities for the provisioning of advanced wireless services, including 3G services. The action is “an important step” towards an auction of 90 MHz of spectrum for AWS, the FCC said.