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Broadband Over Power Lines Debuts in D.C. Suburb

MANASSAS, Va. -- Just one year after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved rules for the deployment of broadband over power lines (BPL), the technology made its commercial debut in this Washington suburb.

"We have accomplished something here that will be a model for other cities and towns across the United States," a beaming Manassas Mayor Douglas Waldron proclaimed.

In a public-private partnership with Communications Technologies (ComTek) that Waldron said cost his taxpayers "not a penny," the city is now offering a $30-per-month broadband service through its electrical grid. Both Comcast and Verizon already offer broadband in Manassas.

With speeds that rival DSL and cable modems, the service is available to all 12,500 households and 2,500 businesses in Manassas. With the city receiving a share of every subscription to the service, Waldron said Manassas currently has 700 paying customers with another 500 signed up.

"Make no mistake about it: what we are announcing today…is something that we could be rolling out in a year or two from now in literally scores of communities across the United States," CEO Joseph E. Fergus of ComTek said.

Wednesday's announcement comes after a news filled summer for BPL. In July, Google , Goldman Sachs and the Hearst Corp. committed $100 million to expand the reach of BPL. IBM also said it was partnering with a Texas energy company to explore the possibilities of BPL.

By bundling radio frequency (RF) energy to travel on the same lines that carry electrical currents, BPL allows data to be transmitted without the need for a separate line. Since the electrical current and the RF energy signals operate at different frequencies, the two don't interfere with each other.

"This is truly evolutionary technology," Fergus said. "It's not another line and it's not a [satellite] dish."

Electric companies place various devices along existing power lines and poles to provide the broadband service. The systems require a connection from an Internet backbone at a power substation. A final converter sends the broadband service into homes, where the signal be accessed with a BPL modem from any standard electrical outlet.

"The City of Manassas and ComTek are to be applauded for their leadership roles in pioneering access in a way that has never been achieved anywhere else in the United States," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said. "Now, the challenge before us is to make this same sort of success story blossom across the nation."

According to a report by the New Millennium Research Council last year, there were more than 20 BPL trials underway in the United States in 2004 with roughly a quarter million homes already having access to BPL.

ComTek's Fergus said his company is currently negotiating with nine other utilities and "other entities" to provide BPL.

Manassas' own involvement with BPL began in 2001 with a grant from the American Public Power Association. By 2003, the decision was made to go to a full scale deployment of the technology.

Last year, the city selected the Chantilly, Va.-based ComTek to provide BPL services over the city's electrical lines. ComTek owns and operates the BPL network, providing e-mail, Web hosting and customer sign-up and support. Manassas provides utility staff to install BPL couplers and repeaters and maintains the fiber connections that link ComTek's servers and routers to the power lines.

"Our utility fund is fully self supporting," Waldron said. "There was no cost to the taxpayers." Mark LeRoy, the financial manager for Manassas' city utilities, added, "We took special care not to subsidize this service."



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