Chicago (IL) – Providing broadband Internet to rural America never has made economic sense to telecommunications and cable providers, but it seems that there soon might be a fast Internet solution for those underserved areas. IBM is working with electric cooperatives across the eastern U.S. to deliver broadband over power lines to rural America. The implications are significant and could bridge a growing digital divide between rural and metropolitan America.
The project taps an idea that just won’t go away – to take advantage of the nation's power grid to transfer not only electricity but bits of data as well. The technology is commonly referred to as broadband-over-power-line (BPL) and never achieved a critical penetration in key markets of the world. However, it might be an interesting and very economic way to leverage existing power lines and infrastructure to quickly and inexpensively deploy broadband access to areas that otherwise would not see DSL hubs or cable Internet access in the foreseeable future.
IBM confirmed in a press release it will be working with rural electricity cooperatives on the project, joining forces with rural broadband leader International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC).
The $9.6 million agreement states that IBM will install BPL networks at electric cooperatives throughout the eastern U.S., while IBEC will focus on "providing broadband services to underserved residents in rural America." The scope of the project is staggering: IBM will have to work with 900 electric cooperatives in the country that cover three quarters of the land mass and provide 45% of the total electric grid in the country. IBM engineers will manage and oversee the project, in addition to training line crews who will actually install the BPL equipment. IBEC will provide the necessary equipment and sell broadband access to rural residents.
The announcement is unexpected in a time when most of us either accepted that there simply is no broadband in rural areas or hoped that WiMax will solve the problem within a few years. Either way, broadband Internet for rural areas may be able to bridge the growing digital divide that exists today between rural and metropolitan areas, which can only be considered as a positive development.