IBM Teams up with BPL Provider to Offer Services in Seven States
On Wednesday, November 12, IBM announced that it has signed a $9.6 million deal with International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC) to install equipment and provide BPL service to almost 350,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. According to the Associated Press, IBEC Chief Executive Scott Lee said the network, which will be funded by $70 million in low-interest federal loans from the Department of Agriculture, should be in place in about two years. IBEC currently provides broadband to only about 1400 customers, most of them beginning to receive service in the past 18 months.
"IBEC's equipment doesn't use the ham bands," said BPL expert and ARRL Laboratory Manager Ed Hare, W1RFI, "making it less likely that they will have any interference complaints from amateurs. Their equipment, however, does interfere with shortwave broadcast and other spectrum, but in the US, not many users have complained. IBM has been in the BPL business for a few years now, so this venture is nothing new for them." IBEC staff member Brent Zitting, KB4SL, serves as a member of ARRL's EMC Committee.
IBM is the first major systems integrator to enter the market. According to an IBEC press release announcing the joint venture, IBM "will provide overall project management, oversight, and training of the line crews who will be installing the BPL equipment." IBEC "will provide the BPL technology and equipment and serve as the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to these rural residents."
A 2006 FCC study reported that fewer than 5000 homes receive their Internet connections via power lines. IBM and IBEC's joint plan, Lee said, will serve residents, of whom about 86 percent have no cable or DSL access, in the seven states.
According to reports, IBEC's strategy is to sign up electric cooperatives that provide power to sparsely populated areas across the eastern United States. Rather than compete toe-to-toe with large, entrenched cable or DSL providers, IBEC is looking for customers that have been largely left out of the move to high-speed Internet.
"Although the BPL industry is making progress on the EMC issues," Hare explained, "this process will not be complete until it supports regulations and industry standards that reflect its successful models. At recent meetings of the IEEE P1775 BPL EMC standards committee -- although utility and radiocommunications stakeholders wanted to include an informative annex on the ways to address BPL interference, as well as a procedure to address complaints -- some in the BPL industry, including the representative from IBEC, blocked moving the EMC standard to IEEE ballot with the annex included."