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Broadband Over Powerline Loses Support

BPL, once considered the solution for bringing broadband to rural areas, faces the loss of its showcase implementation in Manassas, Va.

Once considered the salvation for bringing broadband to rural areas, broadband-over-powerline is facing the loss of its showcase implementation in Manassas, Virginia. The Manassas City Council has voted to cease supporting the service.

Inaugurated in 2005 amid high hopes and support from important government and industry interests, the service gradually withered away until only some 520 businesses and residences currently use the service. The city took over the service from initial provider COMTek after subscribers failed to sign up for the BPL service in large enough numbers to support it.

"I think this was a worthwhile experience," said city council member Steven Randolph last week, according to media reports. "But the business model just didn't work."

In addition to slow adoption rates, the service faced stiff opposition from ham radio operators who claimed that the BPL service interfered with their transmissions.

BPL had the enthusiastic support of former FCC chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin as well as financial support from the State of Virginia and the City of Manassas. Another early supporter was the American Public Power Association, which provided a grant.

With rural consumers clamoring for broadband service, BPL seemed the perfect solution, because power lines have been extended to most rural regions. BPL offered 10 times the throughput of dial-up. While BPL networks began springing up across North America, none of them caught on and most have faded from sight.

The Current Group and DirecTV had hopes of using BPL to provide service to more than 2 million customers, many in the Dallas area. But that project never got wheels.

Although most communities have dropped their BPL plans, IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications have launched an effort to deploy BPL service to customers of electrical cooperates in rural regions.

Manassas residents also receive broadband service from Comcast and Verizon.

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