Stimulus Could Reshape Broadband Tech Landscape

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog -
Rich Tehrani
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Stimulus Could Reshape Broadband Tech Landscape

With all the talk of broadband stimulus, many of us in the more densely populated areas of the nation probably wonder just why this is such a big deal as we have cable and companies already competing for our business. For regions of the country where cable modems and DSL are not viable options, you have to make do with satellite and hope for WiMAX to give you higher speeds.

Another more viable option is being brought to market by IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc. (IBEC) -- an Internet Service Provider - who just announced they have begun to establish Broadband over Power Line (BPL) networks for nearly 200,000 rural customers served by seven electrical cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia. TMC's Michael Dinan first reported on the story last November.

IBM and IBEC, with the aid of government funding, are building broadband over power line networks in cooperation with member-owned electric utility co-ops across the nation. The first seven co-ops to participate include: Cullman Electric Cooperative in Alabama; Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC, Parke Country REMC and South Central REMC in Indiana; Midwest Energy Cooperative in Michigan; and BARC Electric Cooperative and Central Virginia Electric Cooperative in Virginia.

Bruce King, CEO of BARC Electric Cooperative in Virginia is looking forward to bringing broadband access to his community of 11,000 households and small businesses in the coming months. "I cannot go to church or rotary club meetings on the weekend without someone in the community asking me when we'll have high speed Internet access. Our members are orphans in the Internet world," said King. "I'm proud to be able to tell our members that it will only take us 1 percent of the money we invested in the electric system to begin with to enable it for broadband. I am a financial guy, and that is an overwhelming reason to do it."

Going forward, it seems the choices for rural broadband will be satellite, 3G, 4G (WiMAX/LTE), BPL, and perhaps white space technology (TMC will be announcing a new white spaces conference soon BTW - drop me a line if interested.) It will be interesting to see where this broadband stimulus money goes. It could dramatically accelerate BPL technology adoption which could have a negative effect on WiMAX or other wireless technologies. Conversely it could benefit wireless at the expense of BPL. The jury is still out.

Broadband stimulus plan evolution will be worth watching as it will be the ultimate public/private partnership where lobbying and other "relationships" rather than survival of the technology fittest will determine which companies and technologies are left standing. While at first blush this should scare the hell out of us, the government has been an important advocate of technologies in the past such as UNIX and their early support is partly responsible for the open-source revolution. I hope this stimulus plan is more like the UNIX example and less like the never-ending banking and automotive "stimulus" the government has been experimenting with these past months.

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