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Summary:

A provision in the economic stimulus package may funnel up to $2.5 billion through the Department of Agriculture to provide broadband service to people who live in rural areas and lack access to high-speed Internet. But any money spent on Broadband Over Power Lines, or BPL, […]

Photo: blhphotography/FlickrA provision in the economic stimulus package may funnel up to $2.5 billion through the Department of Agriculture to provide broadband service to people who live in rural areas and lack access to high-speed Internet. But any money spent on Broadband Over Power Lines, or BPL, technology, will be wasted. BPL provides seriously slow web access through old power infrastructures.

The BPL enterprise between IBM and IBEC this week identified where they’ll start delivering these services. Since the Department of Ag already gave $77 million in loans last year, it’s likely to give more, as minimum speeds weren’t written into the stimulus bill. As we’ve noted previously, the viability of BPL as a web service was debunked years ago and should have died quietly. Here’s why:

  • Power lines weren’t built to carry BPL frequencies or broadband data. Broadband experts have noted that high-speed data needs an ample amount of bandwidth, and power lines, which work best at 60 Hz, are not enough. One current deployment of BPL is pushing data at only 256kbps. That’s not progress.
  • BPL interferes with emergency radio. And power lines are unreliable; a simple fault in a conductor could cut off all data.
  • BPL won’t be free for rural communities. IBM has floated BPL pricing plans starting at $30 a month, which isn’t too different from those of cable companies, which offer much higher speeds.
  • Supporters focus on BPL’s ‘communications backbone‘ role in a smart grid, but wireless tech offers less expensive — and faster — solutions. Burbank, Calif., recently chose Wi-Fi over BPL for similar reasons.

Despite this, BPL has been continually resurrected by the FCC. Despite complaints that the tech was not viable commercially and that it altered the “rights of radio licensees,” the agency approved it. (A U.S. Court of Appeals last year said the FCC did not give a “reasoned explanation” for its sole use of positive BPL studies. )

Federal politics aside, BPL is no step forward for the rural customers who need broadband access. Any new dollars spent on it would be better served funding new wireless applications that are more viable for the future.

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By Jose Fermoso
  1. And worse…. you have to have a repeater every 1000 feet or so. HORRIBLE density in rural areas. BPL needs to die quickly.

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  2. What a biased, ridiculous article. Maybe some facts are true, but saying you can only get 256KBPs over BPL is blatantly wrong. Go look at some of the deployments running. Test after test has debunked the radio interference argument as long as BPL is properly deployed with the right filtering. And, of course it will cost money. C’mon, have some modicum of credibility.

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  3. BPL is to Universal Broadband what Clean Coal is to Green Power. It looks OK on paper, but in reality it is a waste of time and money that could be spent on more efficient solutions. The most important thing to know about BPL is that the electric companies are not particularly interested in deploying it. Federal funding for BPL is basically a bailout for the equipment vendors who couldn’t recoup their R&D on the open market.

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  4. [...] perplessità che tale scelta suscita, anche in Italia, si sono espresse più volte autorevoli fonti, prima fra [...]

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  5. [...] 4. A bad idea rises from the dead. BPL and the stimulus bill. [...]

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  6. [...] broadband stimulus number has firmed up at $7.2B in total spending and BPL looks like an unexpected back-from-the-dead winner. IBM plans to apply for stimulus funds to roll out BPL service to over 200k rural customers. The [...]

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  7. In rural areas there IS no cable. That’s the issue – there is no infrastructure in rural areas. There is not enough population density to do more than keep the existing copper on the poles. The local CO’s have not been upgraded to even handle 56K dial up. Often you are looking at 19.9 t0 21.1K. The only alternative is satellite, which is very expensive. Being able to pay $30 a month for 256K would be a God-send. Cell towers are also an option but they need to be commissioned, telcos have to have an ROI to put their equipment up, and then the monthly cost to the consumer is prohibitive. Using the exising infrastructure that does exist is a smart way to deploy to outlying areas.

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  8. President Bush (through the FCC) and now President Obama trying to make this flawed technology into a PC sacred cow must stop. Cell providers continuing to expand wireless 3G into all rural areas makes much more sense.

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  9. Five years ago some of these were valid issues with BPL; however, many things have changed since then with the technology and related regulation. Many BPL providers are providing faster speeds than cable (up to 20Mbps down and 7Mbps up) for less than $40/month. I know I certainly wish I could get those speeds at that rate.

    In rural places where there is no cable or other broadband services BPL may make the most sense to some, but of course service providers and wireless proponents aren’t going to be among the supporters.

    I’m certainly not supporting BPL for every situation, but I do believe it should be considered for any universal broadband initiative. I’m not sure if the author of this particular article was biased or just lazy, but I wouldn’t give this one article much weight.

    Those supporting wireless need to realize its limitations as well. Whether 3G/4G, WiMAX, or hybrid wireless has a great many issues that impact its performance.

    No one techology is going to be the answer to everyone’s broadband dreams. There are just too many variables that need to be considered for each deployment, and anyone who has ever deployed any network should be able to tell you that.

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  10. [...] Jose Fermoso | Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 5:02 PM PT | 6 comments [...]

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