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Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Infrastructural Convergence: Broadband over Power Lines

Posted by Stephen Lewis on November 13, 2008

From the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122644998675019183.html):

International Business Machines Corp. said it has been hired to work with rural electricity cooperatives to provide high-speed Internet service over power lines.

The project is a sign that using the electricity grid for communication — a technology utilities have long been interested in — has finally matured.

IBM said it signed a contract with closely held International Broadband Electric Communications Inc., Huntsville, Ala., to manage the installation of broadband systems at 13 cooperatives in seven states. The initial contract is for $9.6 million, but an IBM official said the company anticipates getting more business from some of the nation’s 900 other rural electricity cooperatives. IBM said it is also working with electric utilities overseas.

The system works by using standard power lines to carry a radio-frequency signal in the magnetic field that surrounds the wires. The signal is continuously amplified by low-priced repeater boxes clamped to the lines. When an electricity customer signs up for broadband services, the supplier mails out a special modem that is plugged into the wall outlet where the computer is plugged in. Pricing starts at $29.95 a month, International Broadband says.

Electricity providers have for some time seen the Web communications potential in their wires, but, until recently, the necessary signal-transmission devices have been too slow for high-speed connections and too expensive to compete with existing telephone wires. More recently, the technology has improved, but big utilities couldn’t see a way to compete with established cable and telecom carriers in urban and suburban areas.

But rural areas, which account for most of the 30 million U.S. homes that don’t have broadband access, provide an opportunity. Internet providers have avoided these locales because the population is too sparse for cable or phone companies to lay fiber or coaxial cable profitably, and hills and trees disrupt wireless networks.

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