Is this the solution we've been looking for?
Huntsville-based IBEC – International Broadband Electric Communications – has reached an agreement with IBM Global Financing to help accelerate access to high- “speed Internet in rural areas.
IBEC has developed technology that would deliver broadband access over electric power lines and is working with local electric cooperatives to expand a broadband network throughout rural America, predominantly in the South, East and Midwest.
At first glance, this sounds like a silver bullet. Remember the story Congressman Artur Davis told about a disappointing industry recruting trip to Selma? How differently that tale might have ended if they could have just found the guy an eletrical outlet.
How cool is it that this is an Alabama-based company? Homegrown guys who see a problem in their community and work on a cost-effective solution.
On the flip, I have a statement from Agriculture Commissioner, Ron Sparks, about broadband. Also, we'll talk more about how Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) works, the pros, and the concerns that some have about the technology.
For a description that even non-technical people like me can understand, I turned to the How Stuff Works article that really should be titled “BPL For Dummies.”
With broadband over power lines, or BPL, you can plug your computer into any electrical outlet in your home and instantly have access to high-speed Internet. By combining the technological principles of radio, wireless networking, and modems, developers have created a way to send data over power lines and into homes at speeds between 500 kilobits and 3 megabits per second (equivalent to DSL and cable).
The article is lengthy, and if you're really into this stuff, go read it all! But for brevity's sake, let's skip to the discussion of exactly how you get the Internet connection from the powerline and into your house. It's the “Last Mile” discussion with a neat graphic:
This effort has a real possibility of giving rural areas an economic boost:
“In the near-term, IBM and IBEC's effort promises to bring broadband access to the scores of the nearly 45 percent of Americans that do not have it today,” said Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks at IBM.Blair indicated that in the long-term, the effort will lead to the expansion of small businesses and creation of new industries. He expects that this will bring new jobs to rural Americans and drive net new economic growth.
Our interest in this issue naturally stems from the fact that it could dramatically impact our industry. But beyond that, we see BPL as a technology that could become particularly important to homes and businesses in rural areas like those served by Cullman Electric Cooperative.[…]Studies estimate that 37 percent of Americans live in areas that most likely will never be served by broadband service via cable or DSL. I believe our customers should be able to enjoy the benefits of rural life without being left behind in terms of technology. BPL may well be the means whereby public power companies once again take bold steps — just like we did 70 years ago — to bring the power of technology to rural America and thereby change people’s lives for the better.
Of course, there are potential drawbacks that could hamper or even kill BPL efforts. The FCC, amateur radio operators, racio station owners, and others are concerned about possible interference from BPL. This is described in detail here.
In the meantime, I'm thrilled that the industry is moving forward by studying and testing BPL. It's going to cost a LOT to provide cable or even DSL Internet service to rural areas. But, thanks to the REA program from that Socialist New Deal, the vast majority of homes already have electric wires in place.
Of ocurse, I expect resistance from the big telecoms. They may think the own the Internet, but they don't have control over electric utilities. Yet.
The strange thing we've learned from the Alabama Broadband Initiative and Public Service Commission is that, while telecoms may not want to expand their service into underserved or unserved areas, they don't want anyone else doing it either! What's up with that?
Hopefully, we'll get a new governor and legislature with enough spine to stand up for Alabama consumers and reform the Public Service Commission.
Agriculture Commissioner, Ron Sparks, is a member of the commisison working on the Alabama Broadband Initiative and has extensive experience working with the 911 system.
I contacted his spokesman to ask if Sparks has considered BPL as a soultion for rural area or has any comment on on BPL specifically:
Commissioner Sparks has long been an advocate of expanding broadband access across the state. This technology is key to providing our rural areas access to information, education, and economic opportunities available through today’s new economy. Sparks fully supports any cost effective endeavor that broadens opportunity and gives Alabamians access to a better way of life.
Is BPL the solution? I don't know, but I certainly think it's something that the state needs to add into the mix of broadband solutions being considered.