Thursday, February 19, 2009

IBM and IBEC Providing Broadband to Rural Markets

There's been a lot of ups and downs in the delivery of broadband services over power lines (Broadband over Power Lines or BPL) here in the United States. Trials have been setup and the technology has been demonstrated to work but really has not gone anywhere.

Here in Western Massachusetts I recall a trial setup by one of the electric companies that delivered broadband services to wireless access points hung on poles. Customers made their connections by logging in wirelessly. That trial was done in a suburb/residential type area where other broadband options were available. The technology worked but I believe, in the end, the power company could not compete price-wise with the cable and telecommunications companies already servicing the area and the trial was dropped.

This scenario has played out across the country - here's an interesting quote from a BPL piece at NetworkWorld :

BPL so far has not caught on as a broadband technology in the United States. As of June 30, 2007, the FCC reported that only 5,420 people in the United States subscribed to broadband over power line, vs. 34 million cable subscribers and 27.5 million asymmetrical DSL subscribers.

Rural areas are different though - what if BPL service was made available to customers that have no option except dial-up? This is the question IBM asked and, as a result, the company signed a $9.6 million agreement with International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC) to expand broadband services to rural customers. IBM and IBEC plan to roll out BPL service through seven electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia and say they could end up providing broadband connectivity to approximately 200,000 people that otherwise, would not have it.

IBEC's trademarked tag line is "For Underserved and Rural Markets" - exactly what we need in our country. I'm hoping this will be a sign of more good things (broadband) to come.

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