Thursday, February 19, 2009
IBM flies BPL flag in rural markets
Could broadband over power lines be due for a comeback? As broadband stimulus funds are directed toward building out rural market coverage, BPL, a technology once championed by the Federal Communications Commission but ignored by U.S. service providers, could enter the conversation once again.
Info tech giant IBM is doing its part, working with wholesale network operator International Broadband Electric Communications to build out BPL coverage in Virginia, Michigan, Alabama and Indiana. The network could be used by electrical cooperatives to provide rural broadband access and move their own operations to smart grid technology.
IBM, according to a story at Network World, sees a potential market opportunity to reach 200,000 subscribers, which is not much in the bigger broadband picture, but could make a big impact in many rural communities. Also, at the moment, there are only a few thousand or fewer BPL customers in the U.S., so perhaps the goal is more ambitious than it sounds.
BPL, as well as the HomePlug Power Alliance standard, have made power connectivity a viable broadband alternative in many international markets even while it has remained a non-factor in the U.S. Current Communications, which had one of the largest-profile BPL deployments in the U.S. in Dallas eventually sold its network to a utility focused only on its own smart grid needs and not on consumer broadband. That was less than a year ago. Will IBM's backing and the dangling of rural broadband stimulus funds be enough to revive BPL here?