IBM said Wednesday that it has struck a $9.6 million deal with International Broadband Electric Communications under which it will deploy high-speed Internet service that runs over powerlines in rural U.S. markets underserved by traditional broadband technology.
IBM will use IBEC's broadband over powerline (BPL) equipment to roll out BPL service to customers of electrical cooperatives that provide electricity for much of rural America.
"Americans in rural areas of the country trail their urban and suburban counterparts in broadband availability," IBEC CEO Scott Lee said in a statement. "This capability will play a crucial role in rural health, education, and economic development, while closing the digital divide that exists between well served and underserved America."
Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks at IBM, said, "High-speed Internet service is revolutionizing the way we do business, and access to this resource will generate great opportunities for rural America."
IBM estimates there are more than 900 electrical cooperatives in the United States, providing service that accounts for 45% of the country's total power grid.
Officials at co-op industry groups said the plan would help boost the economies of less populated areas. "This is a key development in the growth and availability of high-speed broadband over power line Internet services and widespread availability of critical SmartGrid applications in the United States," said Bill Moroney, president and CEO of the Utilities Telecom Council.
With BPL, consumers can simply plug their computers into any electrical outlet to receive broadband service at speeds comparable to those offered by DSL and cable Internet service providers.
Despite its promise, BPL has received mixed reviews to date and as a result has largely failed to flourish. Among other things, critics charge that BPL interferes with short-wave radios signals used by ham radio operators and others.