Pa. council hears pros and cons of broadband's reach

September 14, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Broadband over power lines, or BPL, could be worthwhile for Chambersburg, cutting some electric department costs while producing income from high-speed Internet and other services, according to the consultant who did the feasibility study for the borough.

Concerned about the effect of such a system on licensed users of the airwaves, however, the Cumberland Valley Amateur Radio Club has asked for the opportunity to address the council at its Sept. 27 meeting.

Over 10 years, BPL could supply Internet and other services to about 4,000 homes and businesses in Chambersburg, according to David Shpigler of the Shpigler Group, the Nyack, N.Y., firm commissioned to do the $17,000 feasibility study. He presented his findings at Monday night's council meeting.


Shpigler said the borough's Electric Department could save more than $50,000 a year with BPL, including being able to read customers' power usage without meter readers. The system could also handle other utility chores, such as predicting peak demand, and determining the location and cause of outages.

On the retail side, rather than the borough becoming an Internet service provider in competition with the private sector, it could realize $360,000 in revenues over a 10-year period by leasing use of its power distribution system to a provider.

The system is now commercially available in four markets, including Manassas, Va., Shpigler told the council.

With BPL, a provider transmits digital information over medium- and low-voltage power lines into customers' homes or places of business. Shpigler said one benefit it provides is the ability to make every outlet in a home or business a connection point for a modem.

The hybrid system could also serve wireless customers, he said.

"BPL is characterized as an unintended radiator," Shpigler said, addressing the issue of possible interference with public service transmissions, ham radio signals and other communications. If that radiation is found to create interference with other users, Shpigler said the Federal Communications Commission requires the entity operating the system to remedy the problem.

"Some vendors have gotten better at being able to manage that" by more efficiently moving the information over power lines without boosting power.

In terms of economic development, Shpigler said the impact of having another way for people to access high-speed data could be as much as $8.9 million for Chambersburg over the next decade in job creation, competitive pricing and higher productivity.

Shpigler said a test of BPL capabilities would require selecting a vendor and training line workers. He said it could take up to 10 months. He estimated it would cost the borough about $30,000, plus another $5,000 or more a month for a project manager during the trial.

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