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.

  • Peter
    February 18, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Rich, I thought BPL was not a viable offering. EarthLink shuttered its BPL trials – and I haven’t heard of any other BPL trial bigger than 500 homes.
    The grid can barely carry the necessary power it was designed for. Plus BPL is just transit to a wireless radio. The signals get lost in the transformers.
    But maybe it will work with small Co-ops in rural areas.
    I would like to see the money go to actual deployment. As I wrote here, the best solution would be a rebate system for the CPE as we the customer actually turns up fixed wireless broadband.
    For small businesses like WISP’s, it is about money. For regional CLEC’s that want to do FTTH, it is about money as well. But both regional CLEC’s and WISP’s have a better shot of actually deploying broadband networks and turning up customers without options than the Big Boys do. (Clearwire has billions and what have they done?)
    As for a White Spaces Conference: Good to get ahead of the pack on this. I’m looking forward to see how that develops.

  • Richard
    February 19, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    GigaOm has a nice summary of why BPL would be a disastrous waste of money:
    http://gigaom.com/2009/02/18/its-alive-broadband-over-power-line-may-get-boost-from-stimulus-bill/

  • Rich Tehrani
    February 20, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Thanks for the comments. I am aware that many previous BPL investments have led nowhere but I also remember hearing you couldn’t get broadband over cable in the mid-nineties. Personally I hope it does work so there is one more alternative.

  • Peter
    April 16, 2009 at 3:10 am

    FCC Broadband Policy Beginnings

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