April 16, 2009
Broadband-over-powerline (BPL) refuses to die. The once-heralded technology got a cash injection this week to keep the pioneering installation in Manassas, Va., in operation. The Manassas City Council appropriated $77,500 to fund the Internet service through June 30.
Just a few years ago, BPL was hailed as a potential strong competitor to cable and DSL broadband and it was introduced in several communities. Former FCC Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin were enthusiastic supporters of BPL, and the industry group American Public Power Association (APPA) provided some financial aid for the technology. But BPL has been fading away gradually. ComTek, the BPL supplier in Manassas, has been sold, and most other BPL installations in the United States have closed down. The technology was opposed by ham radio operators, who waged a long and contentious battle against BPL installations, charging that the technology interfered with their radio signals. At a Manassas City Council meeting this week, Gregg Paulson, deputy director of the city’s electric department, praised the service and said it could support future city services such as wireless meter reading. It currently provides broadband service to some 670 households. Paulson noted that there are some 2,000 U.S. electric utilities that are owned by municipalities. When BPL began popping up in scattered communities in North America, it was initially targeted for use in rural areas. The technology could still find a place in rural America where cable broadband and DSL don’t have an economical reach and in mostly rural areas where the federal government has promised to reach. Last fall, IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications agreed to deploy BPL service to customers of electrical cooperatives that provide electricity service to rural areas.
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