Blog Post

It's Alive! Broadband Over Power Line May Get Boost From Stimulus Bill

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

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 (s 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.

15 Responses to “It's Alive! Broadband Over Power Line May Get Boost From Stimulus Bill”

  1. ____ If BPL did all the things, that is supposed to do I might be for its deployment. However out here there are only five houses in the last mile of power line, even less in the miles leading here, so how many amplifiers would be needed to cover the twelve miles back to the substation? Then with all fifty of us on at once how much speed will be left for each customer? I am told that if I join the local Volenteer Fire Department, I can subscribe to their Network WiFi Max but again I think I am too far out for them even though I live near the high point of the county.
    ____ We just went through the Verizon/Alltel split and now for some of us the service went downhill. So that option went away, there is one WiFiMax vender but his prices make you think that his gear and service is pure UNOBTAINIUM. When we travel I take our laptops and download Live OS ISOs for use when we get back. Living on a pension sure sucks when it comes to ISP costs.

  2. lostmonkys

    got to disagree with you on your 3rd point “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.”
    there are many rural area’s that not only do not have cable or DSL available but are not even covered by cellphone towers eliminating the wi-fi, 3G, and 4G networks from being used. So the price has nothing to do with it. Having cable/DSL or whatever at a comparable price means nothing if those services are not available.There are many rural area’s that the only internet access is dial-up through their telephone line. BPL could be a great improvement for these area’s.
    It may be far cheaper to install towers to extend wi-fi or 3G to these area’s but BPL technology, if they can make it work would cover much wider area’s.
    wi-fi and cable internet are current not available in most rural area’s. DSL is only available if you are close to a connection node. The reason so many have pursued BPL is there is no infrastructure to support anything else. for these area’s the only option is dial up or 3G through a cellphone network, but if cellphone coverage is poor in your area, as is the case with many rural area’s, that also does not work.

  3. Chris Oosthuizen

    Hi, I also only googled my way here, investigating more into BPL. I am from South Africa and have been advised by a friend that Global Verge will be launching BPL in South Africa soon, July / August 2009, after launching in the US in July. From my understanding they are doing this on behalf of companies like Zer01 Mobile, Buzzirk Mobile and Telava Networks.

    I am looking into becoming a reseller for them, but want to be sure of my facts before jumping in. If any one could help me with more info on this, I would greatly appreciate it.

  4. Wow I’ll say this is a “techalive” blog. Balanced and informative contributions, the American way it is! Well, I Google my way to this site because I’m looking for a BPL solution for a low cost scalable energy meter monitoring and customer service system. I’m planning this project for a small community of about 2000 users. The system will use BPL to monitor the meters in a two way manner and provide users with online real-time access to their accounts. Can anyone help me?

  5. This is a bunch of bull crap… first of all show me cable companies which are only $30/month, very few are.

    Secondly, BPL DOES work very well ESPECIALLY in rural areas where cable companies will not reach. It achieves consistent(unlike cable) 5-15mb connection… your crazy if you think 256kbs is the highest it can go. Companies like are providing great service.

    Thirdly, in areas where it is deployed (not just trials but actual deployments) no valid complaints can be recognized against BPL for interference with emergency radios…

    Lastly you obviously know NOTHING about BPL or you wouldn’t have written such an ignorant post. WHAT broadband is free for rural communities? HELLO!!!! How many rural communities even have broadband? Do some research and find out that 1000s of rural businesses NEED a broadband service such as BPL to service their needs.

    Stop complaining about something you know nothing about…

    BTW in response to the comments about 3g… we use 3g(all we can get) and it works very well…. one small problem, they LIE, it is not unlimited, we get 5gb a month only. What business can run on that? BPL is a innovative technology which will help America get broadband, we need to stand behind it, work out the flaws and develop it.

  6. Larry C.

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Jesse Kopelman

    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.

  10. 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.