Monday, December 29, 2008

Power-line-based broadband is back from the dead

Original Article - InfoWorld

No. 6 top underreported story for 2008: Revamped technology brings a new option to broadband, both for smart devices and rural users

The story: It's one of those technologies that have never been ready for prime time or even an understudy role. If someone could only get it to work, broadband-over-power-line (BPL) technology could become an alternative to DSL and cable and perhaps complement Wi-Fi in the networking space. Obstacles still remain, but the perennial also-ran may be ready for a starring role.

Key breakthroughs, notably by silicon vendor DS2, include a new generation of chips that has pushed transmission speeds to 200Mbps, with 400Mbps now being tested, compared with throughput of 13Mbps a decade ago, says Trip Chowdry, managing director of Global Equities Research. What's more, the chips are significantly cheaper.

And another recent innovation, called notching, lets the chips switch frequencies when meeting interference. This upgrade should quiet the fears of ham radio operators (who amazingly enough have still have significant clout) and others that BPL will cause problems for various radio services, says Ray Blair, IBM's head of advanced networking.

IBM is teaming with local utilities to supply broadband in rural areas not served by other technologies. Big Blue's partner, International Broadband Electric Communications, will have access to 340,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Because BPL essentially turns the electrical grid into an Internet-based network, every device attached to the grid will be able to communicate with other devices on it. This means BPL technology has the potential to develop a "smart grid," which could allow for such services as automated meter reading, real-time system monitoring, preventive maintenance and diagnostics, and outage detection and restoration.

Bullish as he is on the technology, Blair figures that latecomer BPL is more likely to supplement broadband over DSL and cable than to replace it. "Broadband service by any of the major utilities doesn't make sense. It will never be able to compete head on."

But in rural areas, where other broadband providers can't afford to build infrastructure, the technology has come far enough in the past few years to make the power-line model economical, he says.

Similarly, BPL won't replace Wi-Fi, but hotels that have found Wi-Fi spotty or those that want to cater to government guests who are forbidden to work on unwired connections could deploy BPL instead, says Blair. Cruise ships and buildings with asbestos or other problems that make running Ethernet impractical or Wi-Fi difficult are also target markets.

And if WiMax turns out to be a turkey, there's a good chance that BPL may get a second (or a third?) look from even urban broadband providers, says Chowdhry.

The bottom line: BPL doesn't have to take over the broadband world to become significant in the marketplace and a useful addition to IT's tool bag when other technologies don't fit the bill.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NRECA Guidance to the USDA Rural Development Transition Team

Glenn English, CEO
National Rural Electric
Cooperative Association

Electric Cooperative Overview

The electric cooperative mission is to provide affordable and reliable electric power to our
42 million consumer-owners living in 47 states. We have no profit motive.
Electric cooperatives:
  • Cover nearly 75 percent of the nation’s land mass.
  • Serve about 12 percent of the population and are present in 2,500 of U.S. 3,141 counties.
  • Generate less than five percent of the nation’s electric power.
  • Maintain nearly half of the nation’s electric distribution lines.
Electric Cooperatives and USDA: A Long-standing, Productive Relationship

A 70-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service
(RUS) makes it possible for cooperatives to construct and maintain their distribution and
generation systems – a difficult and expensive job. Cooperatives generate about half of the
power needed to serve our consumer-owners; the other half must be purchased on the open
market. RUS interest-bearing loans help make these worthwhile investments possible and
allow cooperatives to stabilize consumer rates.

As demand for power grows, RUS loans are critical for making sure adequate electric
infrastructure remains available and new, cleaner technologies can contribute to the
cooperative power supply portfolio. The low-cost RUS program compensates for the fact
that cooperatives are not eligible for more generous federal subsidies awarded to the
investor-owned and municipal utility sectors.

Electric Cooperatives and USDA: Partners on Rural Economic Development

Cooperatives partner with RUS to bring much-needed economic development to struggling
communities. Using the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program
(REDLG), co-ops have helped dozens of communities across the country establish and sustain industries, community facilities, and infrastructure. Program funds do not cost the
taxpayer, but instead come from early payments on RUS loans and other co-op
contributions. RUS administers the program while co-ops implement it by making zero-
interest loans and grants to eligible communities for projects that can create economic
sustainability. To date, REDLG has invested nearly $385 million in over 1,200 projects
across rural America while leveraging $2 billion in private funds and creating over 40,000

Unfortunately, previous Administrations and Congresses have frequently re-purposed
REDLG funds. These actions deny much-needed assistance to vulnerable communities and
turn back the clock on rural development.

Electric Cooperatives and USDA: Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge

Cooperative-Owned Renewable Generation
Cooperatives are committed to using renewable generation and bringing it online where it
makes economic sense and improves the environment. However, it has been extremely
difficult for not-for-profit cooperatives to build our own large-scale renewable generation.
Cooperatives could not access lower-cost financing and tax credits that other industry
segments have used to construct these resources. 2008 Farm Bill adjustments to the RUS
program will for the first time allow significant lending for renewable generation. A large
group of electric cooperatives has formed a “National Renewable Cooperative
Organization” to allow cooperatives to plan, build and own large-scale generation for the
first time.

Renewable Energy Policies and Increasing Demand for Generation
Some renewable energy policies have unintended consequences for the RUS and electric
cooperatives, actually increasing demand for power and causing electric cooperatives to
buy or build more generation. For instance, intermittent wind generation requires back-up
generation, which is often natural gas. Rural areas host natural gas transmission lines.
Electric cooperatives are providing more electricity than ever to pumping stations along
these lines. And in the Great Plains states, many bio-fuels plants have chosen to locate in
electric cooperative service territory. Even when the human population is declining in
these areas, demand is growing robustly because of the plants’ large appetite for electricity.

USDA Renewable Grant and Loan Program
Electric cooperatives are continuing to make good use of the Rural Energy for America
Program (REAP), Section 9007 of the 2008 Farm Bill. This valuable program allows
farmers, ranchers and other rural enterprises to access loans and grants for the purpose of
improving efficiency or increasing renewable energy production. This program has
spurred many rural enterprises to perform energy audits or invest in new technologies such
as manure digesters. The current Administration’s proposed implementation rules would
emphasize loans rather than grants. The program has also historically received inadequate

In order to reach more communities and have a wider impact, this proven program should
continue to have a substantial grant component and the Obama Administration’s budget
should highlight the program’s effectiveness and value.

Interstate Transmission for Renewable Energy
A comprehensive set of federal policies and funding mechanisms are needed to ensure the
near-term construction of transmission that can handle increased demand. These policies
must, at a minimum, include a requirement that siting is performed through multi-state
regional planning and that rural consumers who are not using the power do not pay for the
new lines.

Electric Cooperatives and USDA: Rural Broadband Champions

President-elect Obama’s focus on broadband deployment is an essential component of
jump-starting our economy, especially in rural areas. Electric cooperatives have worked
for many years to bring broadband to rural areas that otherwise would have little chance at
connectivity. Through the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), a
sister organization of NRECA, electric cooperatives have deployed “Wildblue” a satellite
broadband application, in dozens of communities. NRECA and NRTC look forward to
working closely with USDA, through its rural broadband program and other avenues, to
expand rural communities' access to broadband

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

NTCA Lays Out Telecom Policy Course for Obama Administration

National Telecommuications Cooperative Association

Arlington, Va., December 18, 2008 - In a letter to President-elect Obama, NTCA outlined a communications policy course that will enhance the nation's economic and technological prosperity.

Noting that Americans are increasingly turning to communications services for commerce, security and entertainment applications, NTCA said the hallmark of our national universal service policy should be the deployment of a network fully capable of meeting those needs. The letter also urged the strengthening of universal service policy by tightening program eligibility requirements, providing support based on a carrier's own costs, expanding the contributions base and removing the program from the federal budgeting process.

NTCA also said intercarrier compensation arbitrage must be limited and noted the importance of minimizing the consumer impact of such a move and of appropriate transitions for carriers and policy-makers as well. The letter also touches on nondiscriminatory interconnection and access to infrastructure content, roaming, spectrum, and rights of way as well as appropriate financing.

"We believe industry responsibilities accompany the opportunity to transition to a competitive deregulatory operating environment. These obligations include fully embracing our national universal service policy, adequately compensating others for the use of their facilities and negotiating interconnection and access matters in good faith," NTCA said in the letter.

In a separate letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) NTCA made several recommendations regarding the inclusion of language to help promote the building of a nationwide broadband network in the stimulus package Congress is developing. NTCA's recommendations will benefit all broadband providers throughout the country and ensure our nation's broadband infrastructure is capable of meeting consumers broadband demands. Among them are:

  • The inclusion of broadband in the definition of the universal service.

  • The provision of emergency federal right-of-way rules to expedite broadband deployment.

  • The establishment of a national broadband transmission speed goal that evolves with consumer demand and technological advances.

  • The creation of zero percent interest loans, grants and/or tax incentives with conditions.

  • The conditioning of the emergence of government-owned networks on ensuring that private sector providers are given the right of first refusal to provide service, that the respective electorate has endorsed the concept, and that such networks are subjected to the same responsibilities, regulations and rights as private sector carriers.
View NTCA's letters to President-elect Obama, House Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

IBM Plans Broadband Over Power Lines For Rural America

Original Article - InformationWeek

IBM (NYSE: IBM) said Wednesday that it has struck a $9.6 million deal with International Broadband Electric Communications under which it will deploy high-speed Internet service that runs over powerlines in rural U.S. markets underserved by traditional broadband technology.

IBM will use IBEC's broadband over powerline (BPL) equipment to roll out BPL service to customers of electrical cooperatives that provide electricity for much of rural America.

"Americans in rural areas of the country trail their urban and suburban counterparts in broadband availability," IBEC CEO Scott Lee said in a statement. "This capability will play a crucial role in rural health, education, and economic development, while closing the digital divide that exists between well served and underserved America."

Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks at IBM, said, "High-speed Internet service is revolutionizing the way we do business, and access to this resource will generate great opportunities for rural America."

IBM estimates there are more than 900 electrical cooperatives in the United States, providing service that accounts for 45% of the country's total power grid.

Officials at co-op industry groups said the plan would help boost the economies of less populated areas. "This is a key development in the growth and availability of high-speed broadband over power line Internet services and widespread availability of critical SmartGrid applications in the United States," said Bill Moroney, president and CEO of the Utilities Telecom Council.

With BPL, consumers can simply plug their computers into any electrical outlet to receive broadband service at speeds comparable to those offered by DSL and cable Internet service providers.

Despite its promise, BPL has received mixed reviews to date and as a result has largely failed to flourish. Among other things, critics charge that BPL interferes with short-wave radios signals used by ham radio operators and others.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rural Broadband Internet: FCC Authorizes Use of “White Space” for Internet Development

Center for Rural Affairs

You are forgiven if you missed an important vote for rural America on November 4th. Another vote overshadowed it. In addition to an historic presidential vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to authorize the use of unlicensed “white space” for broadband internet development.

The newly available radio spectrum offers the promise of low-cost, high-speed wireless internet access with the power to stretch over significantly greater distances than previous technologies.

Traditional, short-range Wi-Fi internet signals also use unlicensed spectrum, but reach only a fraction of the distance that studies show can be achieved by transmission on the newly available spectrum.

The unlicensed spectrum will become available after the switch to digital television in early 2009. Because digital television signals take up less spectrum, space between channels previously left vacant will become available for use.

Access to high-speed internet in the 21st century is a public necessity similar to access to electricity in the 20th century. High-speed internet is important to new and existing businesses, access to information and even governance, thus it is crucial that we close the broadband access gap in rural America.

Currently, the U.S. ranks 16th worldwide for the percent of citizens with high-speed internet access, and we pay more when we do have access. In rural areas, both access and affordability are significantly worse, and too many people are either forced to dial up to get online affordably, or suffer from the high price and unreliability of a satellite connection.

The Center for Rural Affairs was one of 10 rural advocacy organizations that signed a letter to the FCC urging them to make unlicensed white space available for broadband development. We hope the FCC decision will lead to the development of internet technologies that utilize the new spectrum to make faster and less expensive internet connections available to more rural people.