Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) is one of two sites selected to host a pilot project to test Broadband Over Power Line (BPL) service. The second site is West Florida Electric Cooperative in Graceville, Florida.
BPL is a technology that can transport high-speed Internet signals using the same power lines used to transport electricity to homes and businesses. BPL is being investigated for its potential to serve customers in less densely populated areas. These customers are often left out by cable, telephone, and wireless companies offering high-speed Internet access because those companies typically serve densely populated areas. Many rural residents and businesses are left with no Internet options other than dial-up.
The host co-ops were chosen carefully: West Florida for its Gulf Coast weather, high temperatures, humidity, and frequent lightning storms, and SMECO for its pockets of density and rural areas of customers and its location, which is convenient for government agencies to visit.
The BPL pilot, scheduled to run from May through October, will be spearheaded by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Associations (NRECA) Cooperative Research Network (CRN) and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC). CRN has hired Powerline Telco as the project manager to assist with design, deployment, and monitoring; two vendor teams, ACcess Broadband/Current Technologies and Electrolinks, will contribute equipment and staff support. Additional manufacturers are also being sought for participation in the pilot. SMECO has selected MVI Services, a Waldorf-based company, to provide Internet services for the project.
The project will measure the performance of broadband signals across electric power lines, including typical signal speed and distance. Reliability and performance over long distances in low-population areas through distribution lines will be recorded. In addition, tests related to radio frequency interference will be conducted. BPL configurations currently in use are suitable for distributing broadband service to clusters of homes; however, systems may need to be redesigned to serve sparsely populated areas over long distances.
Electric cooperatives typically serve sparsely populated areas over long distribution lines. Steve Collier, Vice President of Emerging Technologies at NRTC, explains, The purpose of the pilot project is to provide electric cooperatives with real data. This data will help co-ops determine the role that BPL can have in any plan to serve their communities with broadband Internet access.
SMECOs role in the pilot is to assist with installing hardware in substations and on transformers, as well as installing automated devices at various locations to simulate heavy end-users. Specific tests will be conducted with these devices located in the Hughesville and Mechanicsville areas to measure and document the performance of this BPL system. Few actual participants will be required, because most of these tests are automated and the devices record the data.
Thanks to the investments made by CRN and NRTC, SMECOs costs will be minimal, and the knowledge the Co-op gains will be invaluable, says Joe Slater, SMECOs President and Chief Executive Officer. Participating in this pilot will give SMECO first-hand information about how BPL operates on our system, and we can make a well-informed decision about providing this service to our customer-members. Well also be able to assist our sister co-ops by allowing representatives from government agencies to observe the BPL tests. Slater gives assurances that these tests will not interfere with customers electric service.
CRN and NRTC representatives noted that the pilot projects will seek to establish baseline performance criteria and measurements that can be used to evaluate future generations of technologies and products as BPL systems continue to evolve.
Additional information can be found on the web at www.smeco.coop, www.nrtc.coop, www.electrolinks.com, and www.accessbroadband.com.