Manassas, Va.'s broadband over powerline network

Why is it a turkey?
Manassas, Va.'s shutdown of its broadband over powerline service last summer was yet another example of how the broadband over powerline network just hasn't lived up to its promise as an alternative to cable and DSL.

Like other much-publicized broadband over powerline deployments, including Nor.Web--a joint venture between Nortel and United Utilities--Manassas, Va.'s efforts were initially praised by the industry trade press as a broadband over powerline success story. (The Manchester, England-based Nor.Web shut down in 1999.)

The Manassas BPL network, which was initially run by COMTek, had similar high hopes. The Manassas City council was told by the then-private powerline operator COMTek that the city could "expect $4.5 million in revenue from awarding a 10 year BPL franchise."

Instead, what happened was quite the opposite. By February 2010, Manassas reported $186,000 in BPL revenues, but the cost to maintain the network was slightly above $351,000, meaning the city was losing about $166,000 annually.

Combine the losses with a paltry subscriber base of a little over 520 business and residential customers, and that it could use a mix of fiber and wireless for its AMR system, and city leaders finally decided that it was time to shut off the BPL network for good.

That's not to say powerline doesn't have its place. Despite some new efforts by IBEC and IBM to revive the technology's use in rural areas, maybe the better place for powerline will be in short range applications like home networking and related smart grid applications.

Manassas, Va.'s broadband over powerline network
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