BPL rollout for 200,000 rural Americans


Huntsville, AL and Armonk, NY, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — February 20, 2009 – An initiative has been started to establish broadband over powerline (BPL) networks for nearly 200,000 rural dwelling Americans served by seven electrical cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia.

Funded by low interest Rural Broadband Access Loans from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program, the project is being carried out by the internet service provider International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc. (IBEC) and IBM.

IBEC’s aim is to bring broadband internet access to these rural communities, while IBM is providing overall technical expertise, project management, and training of the line crews who are installing the BPL technology.

“While DSL and cable modem service providers are competing head-to-head in many urban areas, neither is feasible in low density, underserved areas, where DSL requires significant telephone network upgrades, and cable data is not economically viable,” said Scott Lee, CEO of IBEC. “The only broadband choice for many consumers in rural areas is satellite data service, which does not offer comparable data rates and is more costly than wire line services.”

“In the near term, the effort promises to bring broadband access to the scores of the nearly 45 percent of Americans that do not have it today,” said Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks at IBM. “In the long term, the effort will lead to the expansion of small businesses and creation of new industries, bringing new jobs to rural Americans and driving net new economic growth.”

The seven coops participating in the project are Cullman Electric Cooperative in Alabama, Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC, Parke Country REMC and South Central REMC in Indiana, Midwest Energy Cooperative in Michigan, and BARC Electric Cooperative and Central Virginia Electric Cooperative in Virginia.

Bob Hance, CEO of Midwest Energy Cooperative, led an effort to survey customers to determine if there was interest in broadband internet services. Within a week, the cooperative had a waiting list of 4,000 customers practically pleading for the service.

“We were amazed by the responses to the survey – thousands of letters from citizens of our community expressing their need for broadband in order to improve everything from childhood education to the future of their family-owned small businesses,” said Hance.

Grady Smith, CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative, said Cullman is initially validating two BPL applications – distribution system security through video surveillance and broadband internet service. But there are still other applications of this technology to explore.

“Cullman Electric Cooperative could one day monitor and control our remote equipment through BPL. This technology could also allow us to read our meters remotely,” said Smith.

The project is the outcome of a $9.6 million agreement concluded between IBEC and IBM last November to install BPL networks at electric cooperatives throughout the eastern U.S.