Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BPL gets another lease on life

The obituary for Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) had all but been written when IBM announced it would pony up $9.6 million in a venture with a small company to deploy BPL via electric power cooperatives formed decades ago in areas of the U.S. skipped by private power companies. Today, these same areas are being passed over by the private telco/cable duopoly and left without broadband Internet access.

According to Yahoo! Tech, the BPL rollout will take about two years and potentially serve 340,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin where about 86 percent lack cable or DSL access. The project has received $70 million in low-interest loans from the Department of Agriculture.

Making this project work could prove challenging. BPL utilizes similar transmission technology as DSL that rapidly degrades over distance, requiring extensive and costly amplification to get the signal to homes over long distances.

In addition, by the time this BPL project comes on line, residents of these areas could have superior alternatives such as fixed terrestrial wireless broadband based on multiple current and emerging technologies such as WiMAX and white spaces broadband over unused television frequencies that was given the green light by the Federal Communications Commission last week. And given that these areas have a history of forming cooperatively owned utilities, they may similarly opt to form cooperatives to build fiber optic infrastructure to assure their telecommunications needs are met over the longer term.

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