Manassas Takes Over BPL From Private Company

Michael O'Dell mo at
Fri Oct 17 21:50:29 CDT 2008

"BPL is sub-prime bandwidth."


fgentges at wrote:
> ARRL provided an excellent rundown on the latest with the Manassas
> VA BPL system.  It looks like BPL cannot stand on its own business model 
> and must require the government to subsidize it to keep this system running.
> Whatever fancy business models presented by starry eyed MBAs seem to 
> have not worked out.  Kinda like the subprime mortgage business. It does 
> not make money.
> The historical perspective by ARRL seems to suggest that BPL may not be 
> the solution to the Internet delivery problem.  I note that the City of 
> Manassas has approved Verizon's application for FIOS alongside their own 
> BPL system.  I suspect Verizon has done the business analysis and will 
> make a success of it both technically and financially.
> Finally, we went over to Manassas on several occasions to measure the 
> interference levels and found compliance with FCC Part 15 spotty at best 
> and many cases of exceeding the levels.  Hams there were experiencing 
> troublesome levels of interference and required a lot of work and 
> coordination with the BPL people on each new stretch of line activation.
> Frank K0BRA
>  From ARRL Letter, 17 Oct 2008
> Late last month, the Manassas, Virginia City Council voted 4-2 to assume
> control of the Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) service from the private
> company that serves approximately 675 residents. As a result of the
> vote, the City of Manassas will now have to use monies from an
> enterprise fund -- around $110,000, in addition to the approximately
> $640,000 the city has already spent on BPL infrastructure -- to fund the
> service and recoup the cost from the subscribers; monies in an
> enterprise fund come from the utility's ratepayers. BPL technology uses
> the electricity grid in a city and the wiring in individual homes to
> provide direct "plug in" broadband access through electricity sockets,
> rather than over phone or cable TV lines. Because BPL wiring is
> physically large, often overhead and extends across entire communities,
> these systems pose a significant interference potential to over-the-air
> radio services, including Amateur Radio.
> According to "BPL Today," "Manassas was the first city in the world to
> have BPL deployed to all its residents and has been a demonstration
> center for utilities, integrators/operators and government entities from
> around the globe." It was in Manassas that then-FCC Chairman Michael
> Powell and then-Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Pat
> Wood announced completion of the FCC's BPL rules and FERC's support for
> FCC jurisdiction over BPL before the October 2004 meeting at which the
> BPL rules were finally adopted, prompting an ARRL complaint
> <>. "BPL Today" is a
> weekly journal for the BPL industry.
> The City of Manassas launched a field trial to test out BPL technology
> in July 2002; 15 months later, they awarded a 10 year franchise to
> Prospect Street Broadband. This company agreed to expand the field trial
> and offer high speed Internet service to the entire Manassas community
> via power lines. In April 2004, the city terminated its contract with
> Prospect Street and puts the contract out for rebidding. At this point,
> the City of Manassas had spent $140,000 in BPL equipment to serve 200
> accounts.
> In March of 2005, Manassas reported that it had signed up more than 200
> customers for BPL services, with another 1300 on a waiting list.
> Manassas officials said they "expect[ed] to spend [another] $500,000
> enhancing its telecommunications and electrical infrastructure by the
> time COMTek completes the installation [later that month]."
> In October 2005, COMTek, based in Chantilly, Virginia, announced the
> first city-wide BPL service in Manassas. According to COMTek, the City
> of Manassas -- located 30 miles southwest of Washington, DC -- had the
> potential for more than 12,000 residential and 2500 commercial
> subscribers. In May 2006, Philadelphia-based GridPlex announced it would
> acquire Manassas' BPL program from COMTek.
> In May 2006, "BPL Today" reported that GridPlex had the goal of "growing
> the deployment into a state-of-the-art smart grid including a wide range
> of municipal applications such as electricity demand response, energy
> and water conservation, security monitoring and many more." GridPlex
> also announced plans to upgrade and modernize the network in Manassas,
> including the provision of smart meters.
> In July 2008, the Manassas City Council held a public hearing concerning
> GridPlex's takeover of the BPL system. The Director of the City of
> Manassas Utility Department, Mike Moon, told the council that the cost
> for BPL services -- currently $28.95 per month -- could be lowered and
> said GridPlex had plans to improve connection speeds. Moon did not give
> a timetable for when the change would take place, but said subscribers
> would be notified when it was to occur. No one at the hearing spoke in
> favor or against the provider change.
> Moon said that if GridPlex acquired COMTek, this would permit city
> residents to utilize GridPlex's smart grid technology, allowing them to
> tap into "cost effective, conservation encouraging technology."
> Residents could keep track and control their consumption of water and
> electricity on a daily basis. "We are in discussions with [GridPlex] on
> using those services, but we're not to the point of making that final
> decision," he said. "That's a $4-5 million project for us, so we have to
> make sure it's the right company, the right business plan for the city."
> At the Council meeting in September, Moon explained that GridPlex's
> takeover of Manassas' BPL system -- scheduled for early August 2008 and
> postponed many times -- would not occur. According to the meeting
> minutes, "The inability of GridPlex to take over the COMTek franchise
> has made it necessary for [Manassas] to assume the operation of the BPL
> system and the current customer base, which consists of approximately
> 675 residents. The City must now purchase all assets owned by COMTek and
> will then exercise a short-term service agreement to service existing
> accounts." Speaking for Moon, Manassas' Utilities Deputy Director
> (Electric) Gary Paulson told the ARRL that the cost of the assets
> totaled approximately $110,000. "This includes all the hardware,
> software and licenses needed to operate the BPL system," Paulson said.
> Four members of the six member Council voted to take over the BPL
> service. According to Kipp Hanley, a reporter for the "News and
> Messenger" daily newspaper in Manassas, this means the city will have to
> use a small percentage of its electric department reserve fund to pay
> for the service for the next six months. After six months, Hanley told
> the ARRL, it will be up to the Council if they want to include it in the
> city budget.
> One reason to keep the BPL technology, he said, is Advanced Metering
> Infrastructure (AMI) via the smart grid, something that the Manassas
> utility department has advocated. Moon said that his office is also
> looking at other ways to carry AMI, such as wireless. This was put out
> to bid in September 2008.
> Manassas Vice Mayor Andy Harrover was one of the four who voted to take
> over the service from COMTek. Harrover told the "News and Messenger" he
> voted in the affirmative as a "common courtesy for those who use the
> service and for the future of the AMI system," but said he has a
> "fundamental problem" with the city providing Internet services. "The
> philosophical question is should the city be in the Internet business
> and the answer is no."
> Councilman Jonathan Way was one of two members who voted against taking
> over COMTek's services. "If we really feel compelled to compete, we
> should do so with modern, fast and reliable technology," he told the
> "News and Messenger." "The current operator of the BPL system cannot
> make a go of it and wants out. There should be a lesson hiding somewhere
> in that fact."
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