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News and comments on community broadband networks, the communities deploying them and the technologies that support them. Published by Denise Frey and Al Bonnyman.

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Monday, February 23, 2004


Recent BPL (broadband over power line) news:

Colorado: "Plug-in Internet for the rural West?"

Marsha Austin with the Denver Post reports that San Isabel Electric Association is interested in BPL as a means of bringing broadband to a rural area where many customers don't have broadband available. Another cooperative, United Power, is also looking at BPL, but more cautiously, since many of its' members already have access to broadband. Colorado's largest utility, Xcel Energy's Public Service Company of Colorado unit, has looked at the technology but has no plans to deploy it in the foreseeable future. The story includes sidebar lists of utilities deploying BPL; also has a note on the Denver Post story.


Earthlink invests in Ambient Technology

Internet service provider (ISP) Earthlink has invested $500,000 in BPL equipment vendor Ambient Technology with warrants to increase its' stake in the future; Ambient and Earthlink collaborated on an earlier BPL pilot with New York utility Con Edison.

As we noted earlier today, Earthlink is also working with Progress Energy on the BPL pilot in North Carolina using equipment from Amperion, a competitor of Ambient's; posted a story on this project last week.


"Copps: FCC Avoids Tough Questions in Broadband Power Line"

XCHANGE reported February 16: "The FCC on Thursday proposed changes to technical rules to foster the development of broadband access over electrical lines. But FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who supported the technical proposals and questions, says the agency is avoiding some tough questions related to broadband power line (BPL) -- such as how to handle competitive issues and cross-subsidization between a regulated power industry and an unregulated communications business."

Link to Copps' statement

The competition question is interesting but probably worth deferring until BPL really proves itself in the U.S. Presently the technology is mostly in the pilot project phase and requiring competitive access now would complicate these pilot projects. Furthermore, that question should perhaps be dealt with in a broader context. Wireless broadband and cable TV operators, for instance, don't have to open their networks to competitors but phone companies do.

While it may be news to Commissioner Copps, the cross-subsidization issue has been around for years and dealt with by a variety of regulatory bodies and laws covering the power utility industry. Legislators and energy regulators have always worried about energy customers involuntarily subsidizing utility telecommunications ventures; by contrast, the FCC has never before been worried that someone might subsidize overly cheap broadband!


Wired: "New Outlet for High-Speed Access"

Wired has a general overview of the FCC's recent meeting about BPL. The best part comes at the end, where EPRI's adviser on the subject, Bill Blair, explains why the economics may not be good enough for BPL in rural areas while competitive technologies (DSL and cable) may be too well-established in urban and suburban areas. This is not an insight you hear very often; too bad the article did not take it further to find the real market for BPL -- small towns.

At Fiber Planners, we've held the view for some time that the best market for this technology will likely be in small towns. They have high 'line densities' (typically 50 homes per mile of power line -- ideal for BPL). They also receive little investment from incumbent telephone and cable TV companies. Millions of Americans that don't live in or near a metropolitan area also do not truly live in the countryside on a farm (where line densities may be 10 homes per mile or less) but in these rural towns.

I continue to be surprised at how little the high tech and telecommunications intelligentsia understand or take an interest in the real patterns of life and commerce outside the nation's big metropolitan areas. Too bad -- it's a big market.


BPL developments in Portugal and France

The Dutch site Telecom.Paper recently ran two articles on BPL; unfortunately the free articles have expired and you'll have to pay to view them:
Portugal: "Tecnocom in powerline comms talks with EDP, Oni"
"Portuguese telecom company Tecnocom is in talks with EDP and Oni to offer broadband via powerline communications (PLC) technology."

France: "Cegetel to trial powerline communication services"
"Cegetel, the alternative fixed network provider in France, has launched a test for so-called powerline communication services ..."


Follow-up artilces on the FCC's new rules for BPL

Several articles appeared after the FCC's February 12 announcement of its' proposed new rules for broadband power line systems:
Karl Bode: "Electro-High Speed -- BPL technology coming soon?"

ARRL: "FCC Okays BPL Proposal; ARRL Officials Express Disappointment"

XCHANGE: "FCC Moves Forward with Work on Broadband Power Line Technology"

ARRL: "FCC Chairman Assures Congressman on BPL Studies"

Computerworld: "FCC moves ahead with power-line broadband rules"

RCR Wireless News: "FCC proposes technical rules for broadband over power lines"


Preminet Receives Additional Orders for PLC Equipment from China

Preminet, a Kinden Corp. subsidiary, announced February 9 that it has received new orders for power line communications (PLC) devices from a Chinese power company. A joint venture established by ITRAN Communications of Israel, Macnica, Alps Electric as well as Kinden, Preminet has been participating in a PLC trial service in China since March 2003, providing 150 residents in Beijing with Internet connectivity that is purely based on PLC technologies. Recently, the Chinese company decided to expand the trial service to cover a total of 2,000 households, which will all be using PLC devices that are manufactured by three Preminet affiliates."


Minnesota: Rochester Public Utilities to conduct BPL trial

Municipally-owned Rochester Public utilities will collaborate with Hiawatha Broadband Communications in conducting a BPL trial in Rochester.


North Carolina: Duke Power to conduct BPL trial near Charlotte

A news report on the Progress Energy/Earthlink BPL trial notes that neighboring utility Duke Power will also be testing the technology:
"Duke Power has sent out letters in the past few weeks to solicit up to 500 households and businesses in southeast Charlotte interested in free broadband service as the company tests a similar service, spokesman Thomas Williams said. 'We've been pleased with the initial response,' he said. The company's six-month pilot will begin in late spring, Williams said."


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