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Electric Companies Get Involved With Broadband 221

Posted by Zonk
from the who-isn't-these-days dept.
Billosaur writes "The Marketplace Morning Report on NPR has an interesting piece on how electric companies are getting into the high-speed Internet business with 'Broadband over Power Lines', or BPL." From the article: "By purchasing the right equipment power companies can quickly offer Internet service to millions of new customers. There are several pilot projects being launched in the US, including one in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville. That service is being offered by Duquesne Broadband -- a spinout of the local power company.'"
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Electric Companies Get Involved With Broadband

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  • by DaHat (247651) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:19PM (#15312696) Homepage
    Sure the technology to be able to do this well keeps improving... I'm kinda getting sick of hearing about this and fiber to the curb every few months when it is no closer to wide scale roll out than it was 10 years ago when I first started hearing such ideas.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have both, but please... quit trying to get my hopes up!
    • FiOS [wikipedia.org]
    • > Sure the technology to be able to do this well keeps improving...

      No it doesn't. There are exactly two types of "Net over power lines"

      1. Fiber running along the power poles with HomePlug bringing it down from the pole.

      2. Snake oil from the same crooks and con men who push perpetual motion machines. You just can't push significant bandwidth down power lines for any real distance without causing interference. You just can't rewrite the laws of physics, but you can find a VC who doesn't know about the
  • Is finally being used by electric companies. How novel.
  • Would be ok if... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:22PM (#15312723)
    The power line wasn't a giant freaking unshielded antenna! This tehcnology has been effecting communications gear all over the place. Its a very very bad idea in its current form.

    http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/HTML/plc/ [arrl.org]

    • Re:Would be ok if... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dpaton.net (199423) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:36PM (#15312883) Homepage Journal
      It's more than a bad idea, it's a forking NIGHTMARE. Even for non-hams like me, the radiated fields from the lines will cause all kinds of problems. BPL produces a horiffic amount of conducted line noise, in violation of the FCC's own regulations [fcc.gov], and further pollute an already overcrowded section of bandwidth (DC to light). BPL may be good for the power companies' profit margins, but it's bad for EVERYONE.

      And that's my professional opinion.

      -dave
      EE, currently working on EMC compliance
      • in violation of the FCC's own regulations

        Well... If you if held a BPL sponsored event where Janet Jackson had another "wardrode malfuction", I'm sure the FCC would pay attention to those angry letters.
    • Actually, the newer stuff isn't anywhere near as bad as the stuff they were testing even a couple of years ago. Motorola and Current Technologies both have systems that avoid putting any HF on the MV lines (those long, unshielded ones that run along the highway and through neighborhoods). Motorola uses its Canopy wireless system, and Current uses low-band VHF (30-50MHz) coupled with HomePlug modems.

      That said, many of the BPL field tests are still being conducted with previous-generation equipment.

      It's int
      • Motorola uses its Canopy wireless system, and Current uses low-band VHF (30-50MHz) coupled with HomePlug modems.

        Are they paying for all the crashed radio controlled planes that run on 35MHz then?
    • It gets worse - (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Penguinisto (415985)
      Harmonics [uwyo.edu] was a rotten problem in power lines since 1990 (when I last had to study the National Electrical Code, long before I did the computer thang for a living) - even back then you didn't get a perfect 60Hz sine wave, since things like televisions, blenders, industrial equipment, etc etc would introduce noise into the line at multiples of 60Hz (among others), which shortened the MTBF of, well... anything with a power supply or rectifier attached to it. IIRC (though I'm prolly wrong given the time span,
  • by mysqlrocks (783488) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:24PM (#15312742) Homepage Journal
    Where I live (Burlington, VT) the city provides both electricity [burlingtonelectric.com] and fiber optic service [burlingtontelecom.net]. It's Interesting that it was more practical to run new fiber optics throughout the city than to use existing power lines, since the city already owns the electric department.
    • Dang, don't see many fellow Vermonters on here. Last I remembered Green Mountain Power wasn't city owned. I've been away for about 5 years so things may have changed. I do recall that there were strict pricing controls. Vermont has a lot of fiber in it already though so I wouldn't be surprised if they just got a really good deal on all the equipment. Connecting all the major cities of New England takes a lot of glass and thats good for VT! I remember getting DSL in the push back in 1996 and when I moved to
    • They're saving makeready costs. They just put all-dialectric fiber closer to the electric wires, rather than having to pay the telephone and cable companies to move their stuff around.

      (Dang. I surrounded that with a <speculation> tag, and slashdot just deleted it, rather than presenting it as plain text.)
  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:25PM (#15312754)
    Previous discussion of broadband over powerlines that I've read discussed it as an alternative to wireless or wiring your home...really small networks that then plug into a traditional connection. I'm curious how you would handle multiple users on one line. You're not just running half a dozen or so connections into a hub and multiplexing the signals. The power grid is huge! Along those lines, what about capacitance and interference? Wouldn't those kill the range?
    • There's no reason they can't be tying into fiber at some points, maybe even running their own fiber parallel to high-tension lines, and putting concentrators at substations to take residental data connections and dump them over to the fiber for the longer haul. No idea how they ARE doing it, though, but that's a mission for google.
    • I'm curious how you would handle multiple users on one line. You're not just running half a dozen or so connections into a hub and multiplexing the signals. The power grid is huge!

      Any signal you put on the line is pretty much not gonna make it past the first transformer it hits, so it'll be limited to the phase you're connected to - probably not actually an especially big area.

      The BPL schemes that the power companies are pushing (which are doomed to failure because the power lines have a nasty habit of radi
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:27PM (#15312781)
    BPL advocates will tell you that it's not fttp. And it's not going to be at cable speeds for a long while, but has lots of possibilities.

    But here are the salient positive points:

    1) these guys are by their nature, net-neutral and while they're utilities, they don't live behind ancient telco models
    2) reliability is a serious culture within the power community; these guys have trucks and know how to use them
    3) the electrical utilities have the largest amount of unused communications easements and right-of-ways in the USA
    4) the utilities in the EU are riding this wave quickly; they go everywhere, while the old tired fat ex-PTTs slumber
    5) more competition keeps the telco and cable companies honest. We need alternatives.

    So, I say: party on, BPL!
    • these guys have trucks and know how to use them

      Now I'm scared.

    • So, I say: party on, BPL!

      Party on, Garth!
    • Having three competitors in a market makes it much harder to collude. So anything that breaks up the cable/telco duopoly is fine with me.

      Especially since SBC/AT&T and the bastard sons of Ma Bell have proven themselves to be Big Brother's best man and groomsmen.

    • reliability is a serious culture within the power community

      Five-nines reliability is a big deal in the telco world too, but in my experience most telcos are incapable of running a good and reliable internet service (both BT and NTL are pretty useless).
      • reliability is a serious culture within the power community

        Five-nines reliability is a big deal in the telco world too, ...


        Well, maybe; for some definition of "reliable". But in my experience, every phone line I've ever had (over some 4 decades) has been plagued by periods lasting from minutes to hourse when the line wasn't usable due to noise, distortion, lengthy dropouts, whatever. I'm sure the phone company considered the line 100% working during these times. But it has always been common for one part
        • Well, maybe; for some definition of "reliable". But in my experience, every phone line I've ever had (over some 4 decades) has been plagued by periods lasting from minutes to hourse when the line wasn't usable due to noise, distortion, lengthy dropouts, whatever.

          It's true that the local loop may not be great, but the core network is very reliable (at least it is here in the UK).

          And since they do have a culture of reliability, it would probably radically improve internet service.

          But would that culture still
    • One knows who absolutely has to hate this with ever fiber of their cold, hard, freedom-hating beings ... the telcos and cablecos. I expect them to fight this to the death. The prospect of real competition in anything has to be their worst nightmare and must make them quake in their spy-friendly jackboots!
    • The power companies could satisfy all your points by running fiber, which would give a cleaner faster signal without jamming shortware radio.
      • One of these days, power lines were going to get modulated. There's no St Elmo's Fire that's going to happen, radiologically. Yes, there's more RF. But there's more RF everywhere. Screw up hams? I don't think so. More mu metal? Probably.

        It's only the last hundred meters that's going to get much modulation anyway; most of the backhaul is through alternate means. Sometimes fiber, sometimes twisted pairs, sometimes cellular 2.4/5.8Ghz. The WiFi redistribution/cellular concept is a long way from the most popula
    • > 2) reliability is a serious culture within the power community; these guys have trucks and
      > know how to use them

      Right. Guess that is why when Rita smacked us the phones and Internet stayed lit but the power & catv went dark for days. More rural areas went without power for weeks but most kept their phone.
  • by potus98 (741836) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:32PM (#15312846) Journal

    Most power companies are required to buy extra electriciy if you generate more power for the grid than you consume. This usually only applies to folks with solar panels and other sources of power that end up contributing to the grid. They get to watch their power meters run backwards!

    I wonder if the same principle could be applied to net data flows! I would love to be paid by the power company for massive file sharing since I would be contributing more to the 'net than I consume.

    • They get to watch their power meters run backwards!

      Heh. Most of the time, the power co just dumps the power into a big load (read: resistor), because it's not worth the trouble trying to phase-shift the consumer-generated power to sync it to the neighborhood supply. Especially given the fact that the frequency can vary with load (e.g., during the summer, your power frequency may drop to 55-56Hz at 5:30 when everyone's running the A/C and the stove while making dinner). At least, that's what I was told wh
  • I would be very happy to have another alternative to Comcast. DSL is not an option in my neighborhood, and broadly available WiFi not even a glimmer. When my only current broadband ISP starts QoS traffic shaping that benefits them, not me, I want a new place to leave them for. After all, with satellite, I don't need them for TV either.
    • DSL is not an option in my neighborhood, ...

      We we told this, too, by Verizon (who owns the phone monopoly in this neighborhood). But a year or so back I contacted speakeasy, and they said "Yes, we can do it there." We did a bit of checking, and switched our internet from the cable company (who blocked ports 25 and 80) to speakeasy (who doesn't block anything) DSL. It works fine, over the lines owned by Verizon. We get a couple of static IP addresses, no blocking, for the same price that Verizon sells lim
  • By purchasing the right equipment power companies can quickly offer Internet service to millions of new customers

    And they can start with purchasing a power station. I've heard rumors that the internets won't work without electric power.

  • ...in the boots of the telcos and cable companies. If broadband over the power grid were technically and economically doable, it eliminates the need for telcos if you have voip and for cable with a big enough pipe.
    • Ambient Corporation is shipping its new X2 system. Runs at 200Mbps on the backbone. Has gig fiber, Ethernet, and Wifi interfaces. Runs Linux. Oh, and a few dozen of them would make a great Beowulf cluster.
  • Before this can be rolled out, the power companies will want to run a massive national smear campaign against ham radio operators, you know, just to make sure no-one listens to them when they complain about interference.

    • With all that extra bandwidth, these ham radio types can just do their thing over the internet.
      • I'm going to assume (though I can't imagine why) that you aren't mentally retarded.

        HAM operators can operate when no power is running, via generators, meaning they can (and often do) provide a key service in times of disaster. You'll note that that key facet of HAM radio wouldn't exactly work when the fucking power lines were knocked down.

        • Well when the power is out, then there won't be any more interference.

          ..assuming you only want to communicate with people inside of the power outage...
  • by wherley (42799) * on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:38PM (#15312896)
    in the latest QST http://www.arrl.org/qst/ [arrl.org] about the FCC ignoring amateur radio ongoing complaints about BPL system interference.
    new BPL complaint here: http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2006/05/05/100/ [arrl.org]
    system operator response here:
    http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/HTML/plc/files/COMTek .pdf [arrl.org]
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:39PM (#15312913)
    And in other news, the combined cable television industry announced today that it's possible to provide power-over broadband-lines. Their spokesman said:

    "What is coax but insulated copper conductor. With Edison's DC delivery methods, tried and proven over a hundred years ago, a single conductor with ground return has always been feasible. Now we will free you from the greedy power companies and their unfair monopolies one and for all. Bwahahaha!"

    The combined telcos have scheduled a news-conference for later this afternoon.

    • ...if you have ever had the misfortune of working on phone wiring when someone calls, you know the telephone company already delivers plenty of voltage!

      Ring voltage is over 100VAC, which is pretty exciting when you've got your fingers on the wires. Getting the "buzz" in your body and hearing the phones in the house ring at the same time is...well...really...WEIRD!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    That's shocking!
  • Marketplace is produced by American Public Media, not NPR. It often is broadcast alongside NPR shows by your local public radio station, but NPR has nothing to do with Marketplace.
  • by wb8wsf (106309) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:51PM (#15313017)
    BPL is one of those things which sounds good or at least interesting
    at the start, but the deeper you go the less decent it gets.

    The problem boils down to the fact that a BPL system emits RF (radio
    frequency) energy, causing interference to entities that use those
    frequencies. The FCC has been put into an interesting spot here, as
    they realize that the problems generated by it are real, but are also
    being pushed by the Bush administration to move forward on this.

    Ham radio operators are definitely negatively affected by this. Hams
    by their nature deal with "weak signals", which the noise generated
    by BPL tends to clobber, making many of the "shortwave" (ie, below
    30MHz) bands less than useful.

    If you care to see a pretty good response to this go to www.arrl.org
    and look for BPL.

    This is a real horror for hams. Least anyone think that ham radio
    is out of date in this era of advanced technology, talk with officials
    down south who dealt with Katrina, or in Neq York City on September 11th.
    BPL pits big money interests against litterally amateurs, with the latter
    group figting back, and being at least partly successful, in getting
    the FCC to deal/recognize interference complaints, and getting these
    systems cleaner.

    What will happen, I cannot say. But I look to systems in Europe
    and Asia where broadband exists and doesn't use BPL, and see systems
    which offer far better service.

    --STeve Andre'
    amateur callsign WB8WSF
    • Least anyone think that ham radiois out of date in this era of advanced technology, talk with officials down south who dealt with Katrina

      Yeah but when the next Katrina comes along the power lines get knocked out, the RF interference stops, the hams work, usefulness restored, everyones happy right?
      • So tell me, how do you propose equipment and procedures be tested where RF interference makes communication impossible? Be as specific as possible.
      • Yeah but when the next Katrina comes along the power lines get knocked out, the RF interference stops, the hams work, usefulness restored, everyones happy right?

        Wrong. There will be no hams left, because in normal times their equipment doesn't work so they will not have been able to keep it operational.

  • Cheating bastards! (Score:2, Informative)

    by coop535 (813230)
    They're using WIRELESS technology. Read TFA! You'll see it there, plain as day.

    I doubt they even solved any of the original problems they brought to the table eons ago! The idea is that every OUTLET could have internet access. Everyone who has an existing electricity feed could get internet access (imagine third world countries, etc). You'll notice that the article says that without a "smart grid" it won't work in rural areas. A good chunk of the world is rural...

    Might as well invent a square wheel wh

    • You'll notice that the article says that without a "smart grid" it won't work in rural areas. A good chunk of the world is rural...

      That's where I am right now - rural - after living in an area where I could get both DSL and Cable Internet. My kids were *really* not pleased with the idea that they might have to revert to dialup. Luckily there's a wireless ISP with a tower only about 8 miles away and the installer was able to get line of sight on it from the roof. It's not quite as fast as DSL or Cable,

  • Already Involved (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:14PM (#15313195) Homepage Journal
    One of the problems with a website like Slashdot is that its editors aren't reliable for perspective on presentation of stories with a history, both in the world and in the site's coverage. BPL has been covered on Slashdot several times, as the electric companies have evolved their business proposition and dealt with technical, economic and political problems. But the story presented here "introduces" BPL without any of that perspective. The new Slashdot story/style presentations do better, at least eliminating pure duplicates, but the nanothin editorial depth leaves out the context that is part of the story, both on Slashdot and in the world. Consider this BPL story, and others, with an itchy google finger.
  • Asymptote: Always closer, never quite getting there. See: Broadband over Powerlines; BPL

    Shouldn't this have its own section and icon by now?
  • BPL seems like a loser of an idea due to interference issues, but we need SOME third party in the marketplace. The game theory works against net neutrality if there are two or fewer players, but it may work FOR net neutrality if there are at least 3. I'm betting on wireless, but I wish the BPL guys well and really just hope the some thrid party gets into the last-mile business ASAP.
  • The only reason for the BPL dups is for all the /.ing brass pounders to figure out who each other are. Considering how damn lame some of the other ham-boards (caugh.. QRZ) are these days, we need to find some place to hang. Seth's board (hamsexy.com) is nice but they have all those damn VE3 kids!

    73, W7COM
  • BPL is teh ghey (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JPriest (547211) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @06:54PM (#15313872) Homepage
    BPL is only being pushed because so many people are stupid enough to believe that if they have electricity, they will be able to get BPL.

    "quickly offer Internet service to millions of new customers" they say.

    This is not true. They can't run the service over high voltage lines.

    They have to fiber out to medium voltage (7,200 volts) lines and then offload from fiber ($$) to the unshielded lines.

    The lines may be 7,200 volts, but to comply with section 15 the data is transmitted somewhere closer to 1 volt.

    Emergency frequencies tend to be low because the low attenuation rate allows for greater travel. BPL being sent at 1 volt attenuates quickly so their workaround is to use EMRGENCY FREQUENCIES to transmit data on the power lines.

    Even at 1 volt it is enough to disturb radio and emergency communications because med voltage power lines are basically a big antenna.

    The problem with being only about 1 volt is that the signal must be cleaned and re-amplified every few hundred feed (more equipment, $).

    medium voltage lines are stepped down to 240 volt drops to peoples homes but the data could not survive this. The result is the need for a CT coupler (yes, more $) to bypass the transformer and again reinsert the signal onto the shielded line.

    When all is said and done you have a service that is expensive enough to run that it will no be a rural broadband solution.

    At best it will be available to areas that already have a choice between Cable, DSL, Fiber, and soon WiMAX.

    For the high maintenance costs of keeping BPL signal leakage from PBL deployments you could just run fiber right to the home.

    Also, BPL maintenance and inline equipment = network (read Power) outages.

    Besides, internet access is a very step for power companies. By the time they establish data centers, mail platforms etc. there will be a slew of better alternatives that won't cause power outages.

    Maybe they should instead focus on providing reliable power service or clean energy.

    As for the latest "We can monitor equipment with it" they already have technology in place to do that that. It is simply their latest ploy to get people to sign off on their raping the radio spectrum.

  • My dad said that they tried for years to make it work at the company he worked for (very large) and, after spending a lot of money, they, and their competition, came to the conclusion that it simply does not work.

    It would mean a data line to every household. That is a lot of potential, so everybody has been trying to tap it for years. None has succeded. A small company in Austria is selling it on a trial bases, but they have been sued by the state, because their systems cause interference with police and fi
  • Three-prong power sockets already look like scowling little faces.

    How soon until those slits have little pupils that follow you around the room and feed live video to your local Homeland Security office?

    I mean [REDACTED BY FALSE BELIEF FILTER. TRUTH MAINTENANCE SERVICES SPONSORED BY NEW BROCOLLI CHEESE HOT POCKETS.]
  • As long as we have commissioners at the highest level of the FCC who are so easily dazzled by smoke and mirrors and baffled by bull shit; we are ALWAYS going to have problems like this. When confronted by the technical facts their response is that 'there is no problem'; 'your technical facts are flawed and open to debate and interpretation'. The simple fact is that BPL is an IP delivery method over the WRONG medium. You don't see the cable television company's wanting to deliver TV over power lines. You don
  • Commercial fusion power generation is 20 years from fruition. This has been the state of affairs for the last 50 years, and likely always will be.

    By comparison, BPL is maturing much faster - all the timescales are a tenth of those for fusion.

  • The electric companies, excited with new possibilities, have decided to experiment further.

    "The powerline can be used with tiny solar cells on the wires to generate electricity, as they are being laid. We had been wasting the solar energy all along, and this will contribute to the net electricity generation" the spokesman said.

    "We are looking into possibility of channeling heat from hotter areas of North America to colder areas like Canada or North USA, through power lines. Afterall they are metal wire

  • I seem to recall that current stepping transformers broke the chain and caused any sort of data encoded on the line to be lost in the transition from higher to lower voltages. However, that was several years ago so perhaps someone has found away around this problem?

  • seems like about the best way to introduce massive RF interference
    into the atmosphere -- massive high-power unshielded anteneas
    modulated by square waves... blech. :-P

  • Before this turns into Little America, Take A Stand! Do NOT tolerate this abberation of technology, this bastard-child of economics and rhetoric! You want service for your dollar, not prosaic verbiage! Or just chill, and let it be. Lemme tell you a story.... LOL.
  • by Spazmania (174582) on Friday May 12, 2006 @07:12AM (#15316458) Homepage
    I've said it before and I'll say it again: BPL is Internet Fools Gold. The power companies are going to keep pouring money in to this until PONS gets so far ahead of what's theoretically possible with BPL that they finally give up.

    Every power line is an antenna, fouling nearby radio with signals placed on it and absorbing signals from nearby radio and noise. Every transformer is a barrier that requires a rugged powered device to bridge the Internet signal for those four housholds. These are fundamental constraints to which no reasonable engineer expects to find a solution.

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