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2008: The Year Broadband Over Powerline Died
BPL-poster-child project taken over by city of Manassas, may be shut down...
by Karl Bode 02:14PM Thursday Oct 16 2008
Manassas, Virginia was the first US city to see a real, non-trial launch of broadband over powerline (BPL) technology. However, BPL has floundered the last few years because of its inherent potential for interference with amateur and emergency radio, its irrelevance in the face of next-generation speeds, and the unavoidable fact that many utilities simply didn't want to be broadband providers. Manassas was a particular hotbed of interference debate, with enthusiasts complaining the FCC (who for years cheerleaded the technology a little too enthusiastically) didn't properly test the network and used bogus data to make the case for BPL.

The FCC's dream technology, embraced in the hopes it would help them obfuscate the fact their policies have created an uncompetitive duopoly, hasn't been faring well. Last May, a flagship BPL trial in Dallas operated by DirecTV and Current Communications was sold to the local utility. The network DirecTV and Current Communications had hoped would offer BPL service to 2 million residents -- is now being used for smart-electrical grid monitoring. After five-plus years of the BPL industry insisting each year would be "the year of BPL," it looks like 2008 may be known as the year that BPL died. It's estimated the technology never saw more than roughly 5,000 subscribers, most of them trial participants.

Comtek, the company who originally built the Manassas network, has read the tea leaves and begun focusing on smart electric grid technology like Current Communications. Comtek was somewhat obnoxious when it came to complaints from ham enthusiasts in Manassas, claiming that interference didn't exist, and that ham groups like the ARRL were engaged in a "campaign to turn back the clock on broadband in the United States." These days Comtek wants no part in the network it hyped for years, and the city has taken control of the network:
ComTek was supposed to sell the technology — used to provide basic Internet capabilities to residents and businesses — to Smart Grid LLC. However, the deal fell through this year. Instead of axing the program right away, the council decided to keep the service for the roughly 675 customers until April, when it will be on the budget cutting room floor for fiscal 2010.
In other words, another network that was supposed to be a shining example of broadband over powerline's promise is likely going to be shelved. The city may potentially keep the network operational to monitor the city's electric grid, but says the technology simply isn't viable as a major broadband option. That's something we've been saying for going on half a decade, though many didn't want to hear it.

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