“Broadband over power line” (BPL) — using the electricity grid in a city and the wiring in individual homes to provide direct “plug in” broadband access through electricity sockets — made a significant stride yesterday when Manassas, Va. became the first city in the country with city-wide commercial deployment of BPL. COMTek, the Chantilly, Va.-based company that owns and operates the BPL network in Manassas, said that the roughly 12,500 households in Manassas now are within the reach of its BPL network
BPL has some clear advantages over competitive technologies. It doesn’t require a cable or phone line, and can be operated from anyplace where there’s an electric wall outlet with a BPL modem. Upload and download speeds are the same, unlike DSL and cable modem service – whose upload speeds are slower than download speeds.
By bundling radio-frequency (RF) energy on the same line with the electric current that is already carried, data can be transmitted without the need for a separate line. Since the electric current and RF energy signals carrying the data operate at different frequencies (with electric current traveling at lower frequencies and data at higher levels), the two don’t interfere with each other.
COMTek CEO Joseph E. Fergus, in announcing the Manassas service yesterday, said this is just the beginning. “What we are announcing today in Manassas is something that we could be rolling out in a year or two from now in literally scores of communities across the U.S. The Manassas experiment is a good thing for every American who lives in any city or town with little or no access to affordable broadband,” he said.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) said, “Congress is looking closely at ways to improve broadband access in rural and other non-urban settings and that is why I am so encouraged by the Manassas success with broadband over power line.”
BPL could be very important because more than three-quarters of U.S. small businesses in rural areas don’t have access to cable-modem or DSL broadband Internet services, according to a survey released in September by satellite broadband provider Hughes Network Systems.
The Hughes survey appears to contradict statistics from the FCC, which said in July that 95% of U.S. ZIP codes have access to at least one broadband provider. But critics of the FCC statistics say broadband services may not cover all areas of a single ZIP code, and satellite companies may also be the lone providers in some of those ZIP codes.