Although the problem has been around since the dawn of radio communications and broadcasting, power-line noise issues are on the rise. The proliferation of electrical, electronic, mobile and wireless devices — which are susceptible to power-line noise — have contributed to this increase. The law requires utilities to rectify power-line interference, but this does not have to be a budget-breaking experience. By using proper approaches, utilities find that dealing with a power-line noise complaint is seldom time consuming or expensive.

Power-line noise can interfere with radio communications and broadcasting. Essentially, the power lines or associated hardware generate unwanted radio signals that override or compete with desired radio signals. Power-line noise can impact radio and TV reception, including cable TV head-end pick-up and Internet service. Disruption of radio communications, such as amateur radio, can also occur. Loss of critical communications, such as police, fire, military and other similar users of the radio spectrum, can result in even more serious consequences.

Sparking or arcing across power-line related hardware causes virtually all power-line noise that originates from utility equipment. A breakdown and ionization of air occurs, which results in a current flow between two conductors in a gap. The gap may be caused by broken, improperly installed or loose hardware, which causes inadequate hardware spacing, such as the gap between a ground wire and staple.

Should Utilities Be Concerned?

There are obvious reasons why utilities should be concerned and aware of potential issues. To begin, interference impacts quality of life. It's a matter of good customer service to be diligent in responding to customer complaints. In addition, arguing or avoiding customers can be time consuming and may lead to litigation. Next, it's in a utility's best interest to act immediately, because most power-line noise is caused by arcing conditions, which can lead to utility equipment or material failures. Last, interference issues must be addressed. FCC regulations require utilities not to cause harmful interference to licensed services and to cease operating any device, upon notification by the FCC, that is causing interference.