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Parliamentary questions
16 September 2009
Answer given by Mr Verheugen on behalf of the Commission

Power line communication technology (PLT) contributes to the development of the Information Society and the Knowledge-based Economy. However, for more then 10 years PLT has been the subject of a controversial discussion in the EU. This is due to the fact that this technology uses installed electrical cables that are not designed for high speed data. This can cause radio interference that users of shortwave frequencies consider unacceptable. Those interference are unstable and hardly predictable since all electrical networks are different from each other. It is important to understand that it is the networks which radiate radio waves, and not the PLT devices themselves.

PLT are subject to Directive 2004/108/EC (Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMC))(1) relating to electromagnetic compatibility. Already in 2001 the Commission mandated the European Standardisation Organisations to develop PLT harmonised standards under this directive. As of today, appropriate standards, whether at device level or network level, are not yet really available. The only one proposed is considered by many to be inadequate and gives rise to incompatible interpretations. Standardisation is carried out by independent institutions — European or global organisations. However, in 2008 substantial progress was made by standardisation bodies and the Commission is now confident that adequate standards will emerge within the next two years and will integrate the appropriate mitigation techniques recently developed by PLT manufacturers.

In 2005 the Commission issued a Recommendation (2005/292/EC)(2) to Member States to ensure transparent, proportionate and non-discriminatory conditions for the deployment of powerline communications systems, and removal of any inappropriate regulatory barriers. Moreover, the recommendation recommends Member States to be vigilant and report on potential difficulties with this technology. Since then, according to the information the Commission possesses, there have been relatively few problems. There are now approximately 10 million PLT devices in use throughout the EU. Most problems seem to occur in the United Kingdom (UK). Out of 206 established interference cases in the EU in 2007‑08, 184 were based on radio amateur complaints, 140 by UK radio amateurs. Radio amateurs often try to capture radio signals from the other side of the world for which they need a perfect radio wave silence. To the knowledge of the Commission, the UK authorities are aware of the issue and are working on solutions, where necessary by prohibiting the device owner to continue using the installation in question. In the past three years, only one PLT model was banned from sales by a Member State. The Commission is not aware of problems in the aeronautical or maritime area. By and large, PLT systems are already conformant to the existing EMC framework and agreements, and the Commission expects that in 2010/2011 the new mitigation techniques incorporated in new EMC standards will eliminate completely the possibility of borderline cases.

For the time being PLT has a rather restricted market for in-house/ in-office high speed connection. A new application of PLT is emerging through the development of Smart Grids associated with renewable sources of energy and the EU’s long‑term objectives for Carbon Dioxide reduction. The future grids must ‘host’ efficiently all new power producers (individual solar installations, wind mills, etc.) and therefore need sophisticated and automated communication capabilities. The cheapest option for the communication functions of those grids is to reuse their cables and install PLT. Those networks are still at the designer stage.

The Commission will continue to closely monitor the use of PLT in the EU.

(1)Directive 2004/108/EC of Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 2004 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to electromagnetic compatibility and repealing Directive 89/336/EEC. Text with EEA relevance, OJ L 390, 31.12.2004.
(2)Commission Recommendation of 6 April 2005 on broadband electronic communications through powerlines (Text with EEA relevance), OJ L 93, 12.4.2005.

Last updated: 6 October 2009Legal notice