It is common in Europe, as well as Cincinnati, Ohio and Manassas, Virginia
. Cities from Austin to San Diego
are about to launch the technology. But in New York City, there are only a few places where you can get Internet access from the same electrical outlet where you plug in your blender.
“Broadband over power lines” is what techies call it. It represents an intriguing juxtaposition
of old and new technology. It is not only high-speed, but broadband over
power lines may well be less expensive than DSL or cable Internet services.
But this widespread technology has not made any
inroads in New York City. According to evidence presented at a recent hearing
of the City Council’s Committee on Technology in Government, residents of
several Trump buildings and a condominium building on the Upper West Side
are the only people currently making use of this alternative for obtaining
An initial reason for the lack of enthusiasm for broadband over power lines,
which is especially applicable to densely populated cities, was a tendency
for the Internet signals to interfere with other communications streams.
This could have negative effects on amateur radio operators, as well as
first responders. To alleviate these concerns, the Federal Communications
Commission established a first set of regulations for broadband over power
lines in 2004 and a revised
set of regulations in August 2006 .
Although the technological concerns are legitimate, by now they have been addressed. The more enduring reason
for the slow penetration of this technology, in New York and elsewhere,
is that utility companies do not want to get into the business of providing
Internet access. This was already apparent in 2004
and was still true after the Committee on Technology in Government hearing
a few months ago.
Broadband over power lines holds great promise for consumers in rural areas,
because phone and cable companies usually do not find it economical to provide
high speed Internet access to these areas. But metropolitan areas like
New York have no trouble attracting these companies. If utilities could
also be enticed to enter this market as well, hopefully prices would become
New York City Context for Increasing Broadband Access
The continuing attention to broadband over power lines comes as city
official prepare to convene the first ever meeting of a newly established Broadband
Advisory Committee, which is charged by law to "review the ways and methods of using municipal resources to accelerate
the build-out of current, emerging and any newly developed broadband technologies
and other advanced telecommunications and information services, such as
cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), broadband over power lines (BPL),
any other wire-based methods, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and any other wireless technologies,
within the city of New York."
reported almost two years ago that the
state of broadband access in New York City (and most of the United States)
represents a market failure, in which prices are markedly higher than in
other countries. When markets fail, smart governments carefully intervene. Perhaps a little
dose of big government will spur the entrepreneurial zeal necessary to make
broadband Internet accessible to more New Yorkers.
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