New NEC Code Sparks Powering Issues


A new set of cable-powering rules that the National
Electric Code will introduce this fall is already sparking renewed interest by cable
operators in surge protection and safety.

In September, the NEC is poised to release rules raising
the maximum amount of recommended voltage that can be used in cable drops from the current
60 volts to a proposed 90 to 150 volts.

In article 830c, the NEC addresses the need for more power
to drive networks that are incorporating telephony, and it adds a greater element of
safety. Article 830c will be added to the existing NEC rules in January 1999.

The new ruling, titled "Network-Powered Broadband
Communications Systems," will only affect cable operators that are providing
telephony. However, as more operators gravitate toward telephony, Internet service and
data transmission, the long-term impact could be significant, experts said.

MSOs view the new code as one that offers a more definitive
interpretation of powering standards.

"We needed a code for 90 volts and above. There is
lots of ambiguity in the old code, especially in the 60- to 90-volt range. Article 830c
clears up the ambiguities," said Steve Johnson, director of engineering and
technology for Time Warner Cable and the MSO's representative on the NEC.

But although article 830c clears technical ambiguities,
enforcement wrinkles remain. That's because the NEC -- which reports to the National
Fire Protection Association -- has little authority to dole out consequences for
infractions, since the local franchise authority wields the power over power.

"Unless the local franchising authority adopts [the
new] power rules, they don't have to follow the new code," said Ralph Haimowitz,
director of regional training for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
"These are good rules, but the NEC doesn't have the authority to back them up --
the franchise authority has to accept them first."

A local franchise authority, for example, could accept the
1996 NEC rules, which allow 60-volt systems, and discard Article 830c and its 90- to
150-volt addition.

Haimowitz added, "Lots of cable companies are trying
to follow the rules, but their franchise authorities are the ones that make the

Although most franchise authorities are expected to accept
article 830c, cable operators should encourage their local franchise authorities to adopt
the new ruling, Haimowitz said.

"Most authorities accept the code because they
don't have to write it, and because there are serious liability issues
involved," he noted.

Rosann Doran, public-information officer for the city of
Broomfield, Colo., agreed, explaining that franchise authorities generally conduct
business according to local, state and federal rules, which stipulate that cable operators
conform to existing city building codes.

"Rulings like article 830c are grandfathered into the
existing city building code," she said. "If not, you could eventually end up
with fiefdoms that require separate engineers and technicians to administer elements of
the NEC in a franchise agreement."

Ted Woo, director of standards for the SCTE, described the
current, 60-volt environment and the 90-volt addendum as "still not enough allowable
power for the power that will be needed two years from now."

He described new services -- like cable-enabled access to
the Internet, increased channel capacity and lifeline telephony -- as the primary
motivations for the increased power standard in article 830c.

"The Internet itself has a huge growth of
signal-transport demand, and the United States will stay with its 6-megahertz-per-channel
standard. With phone, cable and data all transmitted on one cable, we need more
power," Woo said.

The current standard for cable operators is 60 volts,
although a number of operators have already moved up to 90-volt systems.

"Many operators have already made a commitment to
90-volt systems, and they are operating them. There's a bit of controversy as to
whether it's legal or not. But now, the change is coming [in article 830c], so no one
will go to court over this," Haimowitz said.

For companies such as TII Industries Inc., a Copiague,
N.Y.-based manufacturer of surge-protection equipment, the new code is welcome news.

"There are lots of cable operators that recognize that
[increasing power] is what they need to do. And when they power coaxial lines to
subscribers and transmit two-way signals, they have to provide surge protection at the
home and protect expensive equipment like set-top boxes," said Jim Roach, vice
president of sales and marketing for TII.