IBM Backing Rural Broadband

IBM Corp. is throwing its considerable weight behind an idea that seemed to have faded: broadband Internet access delivered over ordinary power lines in rural communities, according to the Associated Press (AP).


The technology has been around for decades, but most efforts to implement the idea on a broad scale have failed to live up to expectations. AP reports that Federal Communications Commission statistics for 2006, the most recent year available, showed that fewer than 5,000 customers in the U.S. had broadband access through power lines.


Now, with somewhat scaled-back goals, improved technology, and a dose of low-interest federal loans, IBM is partnering with a small newcomer called International Broadband Electric Communications Inc. to try to make the idea work in rural communities that don’t have other broadband options, according to AP.


Their strategy is to sign up electric cooperatives that provide power to sparsely populated areas across the eastern United States. Neither see big utility companies ever adopting broadband over power lines, which simply can’t match the speed of phone or cable lines. But in rural areas, where other broadband providers can’t afford to build infrastructure, Ray Blair, IBM’s head of advanced networking, says the technology has come far enough in the past few years to make the power line model economical.


The key innovation introduced in the past few years, Blair tells AP, is the ability to remotely control the devices fixed to power lines to perpetuate the signal. That way it can be told to switch frequency when it meets interference with other nearby wireless devices, such as ham radios.


IBM has signed a $9.6 million deal with IBEC to provide and install the equipment. IBEC Chief Executive Scott Lee says putting the network in place should take about two years and cost as much as $70 million. The company will have access to 340,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, about 86 percent of which have no cable or DSL access.


(Source: Associated Press)


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