GCHQ & CAA Concerns over Ofcom's Conduct Regarding Powerline Network Technology

John Petters made this Freedom of Information request to Office of Communications

The request was partially successful.

From: John Petters

Dear Office of Communications,
Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 Request.

Power Line Technology and Associated Home Networking Devices (PLA/PLT) sometimes referred to as Homeplugs, operate by inserting a radio frequency signal into the mains electricity wiring, which is not designed for the purpose, as verified by the technical report by PA Consulting, commissioned by Ofcom.

“Fundamentally, with PLT, the power network is being used for something for which it was not designed.”

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binarie...

As a result, the mains wiring acts as an aerial and the radiation emitted by the powerline transmitters (PLT) causes environmental pollution within the scope of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 2(1) (b).

This radiation severely interferes with the radio spectrum including HF (High Frequency, known as Short Wave) and VHF (Very High Frequency) and is proven to cause radio equipment to be unable to operate as intended as the law requires. This is likely to include potentially, emergency services like fire, police, ambulance, air traffic control, Instrument Landing Systems, etc.

The sale and marketing of electronic equipment is governed by the Electromagnetic Regulations 2006 (EMC 2006) based upon an EU directive. This is the law of the land and throughout Europe. All equipment must comply with the ‘essential requirements’, which state:

“4.—(1) A reference to “essential requirements” in relation to equipment is a reference to the
requirements set out in paragraph (2) and in the case of fixed installations shall include the
requirements set out in regulation 5.
(2) Equipment shall be designed and manufactured, having regard to the state of the art, so as to
ensure that—
(a) the electromagnetic disturbance it generates does not exceed a level above which radio
and telecommunications equipment or other equipment cannot operate as intended; and
(b) it has a level of immunity to the electromagnetic disturbance to be expected in its
intended use which allows it to operate without unacceptable degradation of its intended
use.

By its failure to regulate PLT as it is obliged to do, Ofcom is in breach its statutory duty as defined by EMC 2006,
http://www.england-legislation.hmso.gov....

“37.—(1) Except in relation to the descriptions of apparatus referred to in paragraph (3), it shall be the duty of the following authorities to enforce these Regulations—
(a) in Great Britain:
(i) OFCOM insofar as action taken to enforce a regulation relates to the protection and
management of the radio spectrum; and
(ii) local weights and measures authorities within their area;”
And its statutory duty under the Communications Act 2003,
“S3 - General duties of OFCOM
(1)It shall be the principal duty of OFCOM, in carrying out their functions—
(a)to further the interests of citizens in relation to comunications matters; and
(2)The things which, by virtue of subsection (1), OFCOM are required to secure in the carrying out of their functions include, in particular, each of the following—
(a)the optimal use for wireless telegraphy of the electro-magnetic spectrum;”

Maplin Electronics Ltd, which retails PLT equipment stated,
“Unfortunately the Devolo (and other Homeplug) devices can cause radio interferance, however it should not be as severe as you've experienced.”

BT who supply Comtrend adaptors as part of the BT Vision packaged stated,
“....we are aware that the Comtrend technology used, whilst complying with the EMC Regulations, has the potential for interference to be caused to certain radio frequencies from its use of the mains wiring as a transmission medium.”

Yet Ofcom has a duty to protect the radio spectrum.
Ofcom claims,
“On the evidence, Ofcom has not so far found that there is a breach of the EMC essential requirements. Ofcom has therefore decided against taking further enforcement action at this time.”

However, the Deputy Information Commissioner ordered Ofcom to release the report on tests it commissioned in 2008, which it fought to conceal from the public, into Comtrend PLA equipment as supplied by BT, of which it claims to have allowed about 1.8 million pairs to continue to pollute the environment.

The report in fact stated the opposite to Ofcom’s statement that the regulator had no evidence of non compliance.
The report said,
“Ethernet Powerline Adaptors do not satisfy the essential requirements of the EMC Directive”.

The report can be seen here:
http://www.ban-plt.co.uk/downloads/ERA-R...

http://www.ban-plt.co.uk/downloads/ERA-R...

Ofcom’s Enforcement Officer, Clive Corrie, stated in November 2008,
“For enforcement action to remove PLT equipment to be considered proportionate, Ofcom would need to establish that the apparatus does not meet the EMC essential requirements and generates harmful interference.”

He commissioned the report which was published in September 2008.

Adam Higgitt (Director, Government and Parliamentary Business, Ofcom) in his written answer to John Hayes MP of 31st January 2011 said,
“All electrical and electronic products sold in the UK must comply with the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations (EMC)(2006) which are based on a European Directive. The person who places the products on the market must ensure that the products comply with the regulations and are marked accordingly.”

The report however said,
“Ethernet Powerline Adaptors do not satisfy the essential requirements of the EMC Directive”.

Ed Vaizey, MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries stated to John Hayes MP on my behalf 10 Feb 2011,the EMC regulations,
“set out key minimum (essential) requirements about the level of electrical disturbance from equipment with which a person must comply or risk criminal proceedings.”

And

“Ofcom is responsible for their enforcement where there is a radio spectrum protection or management issue".....I can assure you that any instances of interference into radio services are taken seriously and that Ofcom will continue to investigate and take action on a case-by-case basis".

But the Register states,
“Ofcom therefore denies there is any problem. Europe is apparently debating bringing in some laws on uncontrolled radio emissions, but until that happens the regulator can't, and won't, do anything about it.”

And

“Currently that only hits radio amateurs and those listening to shortwave radio, but faster PLT kit goes higher up the dial and has attracted concern from the Civil Aviation Authority as well as taking out DAB broadcasts and MW transmissions too, though Ofcom claims not to have received a single complaint along those lines.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/05/...

However a draft document entitled, “Power Line Technology and Associated Home Networking Devices”, dated 10th March 2011, circulated by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) proves that it is not only radio amateurs who are concerned and that Ofcom’s statement is flawed.

The document indicates that an increase in pollution of the environment by way of noise has already been noted, which could hamper the very important national security work undertaken by the organisation. This is a matter of public interest, where our national security is concerned. Those organisations charged with protecting the public need to be given the tools with which to do the job.

GCHQ clearly takes the view that Ofcom’s abject failure to enforce the regulations against PLT is potentially compromising its ability to protect the UK.

The document reported that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is concerned about safety of life issues as a result of interference from PLT.

In the light of the above serious concerns I am requesting under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004,
1 All documents, notes, e-mails, memos etc (redacted to remove personal details) from GCHQ to Ofcom and from Ofcom to GCHQ concerning PLT.

2 All documents, notes, e-mails, memos etc (redacted to remove personal details) from the CAA to Ofcom and from Ofcom to the CAA concerning PLT.

If this work is expected to exceed £449 in cost, you may limit the information to documents between 1st January 2009 and 1st May 2011, to a cost of £449 but you must justify such limit by providing a full breakdown of the time taken to find and redact the documents.

Yours faithfully,

John Petters

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From: John Petters

Dear Office of Communications,
You are now out of time. Where is this information?
Please supply immediately.

Yours faithfully,

John Petters

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From: Information Requests
Office of Communications

Dear Mr Petters

Request for Information, reference: 1-175094950

Thank you for your request for information which Ofcom received on 6 April 2011. We are considering this request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (‘EIR’). I am writing to you that the time limit for responding to your request for information needs to be extended. It is occasionally necessary to extend the 20 working day time limit for issuing a response under section 7 of EIR. We will respond no later than 8 June 2011.

Yours sincerely

:: Eleanor Berg
Information Requests
[Ofcom request email]

:: Ofcom
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
020 7981 3000
www.ofcom.org.uk

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From: John Petters

Dear Ms Berg,
According to the Environmental Regulations section 7 (3)
" Where paragraph (1) applies the public authority shall notify the applicant accordingly
as soon as possible and no later than 20 working days after the date of receipt of the request".

Please provide an explanation as to why Ofcom failed to obey the law.
You had a legal obligation to tell me that you couldn't supply the information in time. It should have been obvious within a day or two of you receiving the request.
This is very serious and not the first time Ofcom has broken the law in respect of supply me with information under the FOI Act.

I await your response,

Yours sincerely,

John Petters

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From: Information Requests
Office of Communications

Dear Mr Petters

Request for Information, reference: 1-175094950

Thank you for your email. I wrote to you on 11 May 2011 letting you know that time limit for responding to your request for information needed to be extended in accordance with section 7 of the Environmental Information Regulations. We will respond no later than 8 June 2011. That is 40 working days after receipt of request.

Yours sincerely

Eleanor Berg

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From: John Petters

Dear Ms Berg,
Thank you for your reply.
You have not answered the question. You were obliged to respond within 20 working days. That expired on 10th May. So I'll again ask for an explanation or would you rather I ask the Information Commissioner to ask you?

Yours sincerely,

John Petters

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From: Caroline Sims
Office of Communications


Attachment Ref 1 175094950 and 1 176038788 Mr Petters.pdf
3.6M Download View as HTML

Attachment Ref 1 175094950 and 1 176038788.pdf
203K Download View as HTML


Dear Mr Petters, please find attached a letter from Graham Howell in
response to your request for information.

Yours sincerely
Caroline Sims

:: Caroline Sims
PA to Graham Howell
Secretariat
020 7981 3561
[email address]
:: Ofcom
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA
020 7981 3000
www.ofcom.org.uk

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