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Opponents say they fear Internet plan will create interference

March 16, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Radio operators and business owners spoke out Tuesday against a technological innovation that some Hagerstown city officials are pushing for, saying it could interfere with radio signals and create unfair market conditions.

For more than a year, the City of Hagerstown has been looking into the possibility of running high-speed wireless Internet over the city's electric system. The type of wireless connection is called broadband over power line, or BPL.

Twenty-one people spoke for 21/2 hours before the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday night during a public hearing on the issue.

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The proposal could interfere with radio frequencies used by emergency communications radios, said Peter Loewenheim, Washington County Communications Maintenance Departmant manager.

"I cannot support this project" if it does that, Loewenheim said.

Lou Scally, a local television weather announcer and radio host, said he is an amateur radio enthusiast and fears that not only could the proposal interfere with amateur radio, but possibly with AM radio.

"Do not vote for BPL," Scally said.

Representatives for one of the companies vying for a contract with the city said that proposal would not interfere with radio frequencies.

Jim Mollenkopf, a vice president of Current Technologies, said "that's simply not correct" that BPL would interfere. He said the company has tested its system, and it meets Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Mollenkopf said there was no radio interference problem with a BPL project his company did in Cincinnati, Ohio, which he said was the largest such system in North America.

Clint Wiley, who owns Hagerstown-based New Frontier Telecommunications, said a deal between the city and a BPL provider raises questions for his business.

"It's very difficult to compete," Wiley said.

Wiley said he can only get power from the city, and if it offers broadband, it could affect his business relationship with Verizon, a broadband competitor.

Antietam Cable President and General Manager V. Gene Hager said he had several concerns, including that an agreement with an outside company to use the city's electric system would be unfair.

Hager said if the BPL agreement were to go through, other broadband providers would be "competing against the body that governs our business," which is the city.

Antietam Cable is owned by the same company that owns The Herald-Mail Co.

Mayor William M. Breichner, said after Tuesday's meeting that the council faces a decision over whether to move forward with the BPL project.

The council did not discuss the project publicly on Tuesday, and Breichner said it could take a month before the item is placed on the council's agenda.

City Light Manager Michael Spiker said officials have received bids on proposals to provide BPL service, but no recommendations have been made.

One company is Ashburn, Va.-based ACcess Broadband, which is owned by Mollenkopf's company. The other company is Chantilly, Va.-based Communication Technologies Inc., Spiker said.

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