ARRL

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Newspaper Reports "BPL plan is dead in Dallas"

05/07/2008

The Dallas Morning News has reported that "an ambitious plan for using power lines to deliver fast Internet service to 2 million Dallas-area homes collapsed Thursday." Current Group, LLC has announced plans to sell its Dallas BPL network to Oncor, a regulated electric distribution and transmission business, for $90 million. Oncor reportedly has no plans to offer Internet service but will use the network to detect distribution network issues. While Current originally touted the network as a way to offer Internet service to consumers and had entered into a marketing arrangement with DirecTV, the Houston Chronicle quotes Oncor spokesman Chris Schein as confirming that Oncor will use the network only for monitoring the power grid: "Our business is delivering electricity, not being an Internet provider or a television provider."

ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, observed that "This announcement underscores yet again that the Bush Administration made a fundamental error in judgment when it erroneously identified BPL as a potential 'third wire' delivering broadband to consumers. As the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit determined last week, the FCC then compounded the error by 'cherry-picking' from its staff studies and ignoring other studies that proved the FCC was underestimating the interference potential of BPL systems. One can only hope that this latest marketplace failure of BPL will send a clear message that the answer to expanding consumer broadband access lies with other, more promising technologies that do not have such a potential to pollute the radio spectrum."

ARRL Laboratory Manager Ed Hare, W1RFI, was quick to point out that BPL was not going away in Dallas. According to Oncor Vice President Jim Greer, Oncor will use the BPL network to spot grid problems to detect large power outages before they affect customers. Oncor will not offer Internet service through the system as Current had originally planned when they built it.

The ARRL has no issues with BPL as long as it does not cause harmful interference to the amateur bands. Current's Dallas system is a good example of that, Hare said, as it is "notched" so as not to interfere with the Amateur Radio Service: "The Current system in Dallas is probably not causing interference to ham radio. Their equipment doesn't use the ham bands. It is also quiet except when in use. For meter reading and other utility applications, nearby modems may make the occasional short burst of noise, but not the cacophony of sound we hear with some other systems. You would probably be able to tell that BPL is there if you tune outside the ham bands. From an EMC perspective, what is needed now to complete this progress are regulations and standards that match BPL's most successful models."

DirecTV customers who get Internet service through Current's network will probably lose service when the deal goes through. "Oncor is not in the telecommunications business, and it has no plans to get into the telecommunications business," said Schein.

Dallas and Houston are the only metropolitan areas in Texas with BPL. In the past, the City of Austin looked at incorporating a BPL system in their community, but decided not to do so. In a report on how the BPL trial it undertook worked for them, the City of Austin summarized its reasons for that decision.



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