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BPL in Central Texas
Broadband Horizons BPL connection on a PEC pole in Blanco, Texas,
15 July 2004
A Broadband Horizons BPL connection on a PEC pole in downtown Blanco, Texas, 15 July 2004. The ISP to which this tap connected was Momentum Online. The Blanco BPL system was removed in 2004. [Photo by K5TR]
Alert for Central Texas!

Broadband over Powerline (BPL) is the delivery of broadband Internet signals using electrical wiring to conduct high-speed digital signals to homes and businesses. BPL systems are designed to deliver Internet services using medium voltage power lines as the distribution medium, and generally use the frequency range between 1.7 MHz and 80 MHz. Because power lines are not designed to prevent the radiation of RF energy, BPL represents a significant potential interference source for all radio services using this frequency range, including the Amateur Radio Service. Overhead electrical power lines and residential wiring act as antennas that unintentionally radiate the broadband signals as radio signals throughout entire neighborhoods and along roadsides. In addition to the potential for spectrum pollution, many other uncertainties remain about the viability of BPL.

PowerGrid Communications BPL Trial Details

Despite years of failed BPL pilot projects elsewhere in the state, Austin Energy will begin BPL testing in conjunction with PowerGrid Communications in January, 2007. The initial test area was slated to be in the Hyde Park neighborhood of central Austin, near 45th and Speedway. Specific test locations may include:

Because of objections to the original test area by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, new plans for test areas include a test area in the 78702 ZIP code, which is east of IH-35, just north of Town Lake. There are no details of these proposed tests, or the means by which harmful interference to licensed service operators in the test areas will be detected or measured or prevented, on the PowerGrid Communications web site or press releases.

The greatest potential for interference is in the 78702, 78703, 78705, 78722, 78723, 78751, 78756, and 78757 ZIP codes. For more information, or to volunteer to help monitor for interference, contact Jerry Hernandez at (512) 322-6663.

Broadband Horizons BPL Trial Details

Since 2004, a Blanco, TX company called Broadband Horizons has conducted field trials of a Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) system in at least four cities in central Texas. Even though no trial customer has ever invested in a permanent BPL service, Broadband Horizons continues to claim in press releases that their BPL trials are "successful" and are backed with "significant funding from banks and investors," which the company refuses to name. The Austin American-Statesman reported on 15 July 2004 that the funding amount was only $1.5 million USD. Broadband Horizon's website contains additional information about these very small-scale trials that involve fewer than a dozen users for as short a period of time as 90 days. Their web site claims that "So far there has been no measured interference with radio communications." There is no disclosure about what tests, if any, have been performed to test for and measure interference. The web site content is now over a year old without an update.

-   City of Blanco
The ISP being used is Momentum Online, and the electric utility is the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, a costumer-owned utility. There were two known BPL taps, one in front of the Internet Service Provider, and the other less than 100' down the road on a pole feeding the Cattleman's National Bank. This trial appears to have been quietly terminated in late 2004, and the system is no longer operational.

-   City of Burnet
The Broadband Horizons trial in Burnet has been concluded and the system hardware was removed from the town in early 2005. The City of Burnet has terminated its relationship with Broadband Horizons and has no plans for a BPL installation. An Audit of Radio Frequency Emissions Present in Burnet, Texas During Operation of BPL System documented the levels of harmful interference caused by the system before it was removed.

-   City of Castroville
Despite the rejection of BPL by other central Texas cities, a proposed trial is being considered in the small town of Castroville. The proposal is being promoted by Castroville City District 4 Councilman Darren Bond. Neither Broadband Horizons nor the Councilman Bond have published any information on the scope or duration of the proposed trial or on what steps, if any, they would plan to take to measure spectral pollution and radio frequency interference that will be caused by the system. The state of this trial is unknown.

-   City of Weimar
The City of Weimar is served by the Fayette Electric Cooperative District 6. The Director responsible for District 6 is Mack Janak. In December, 2004, over six months into the trial, the Weimar City Council was not persuaded to vote to accept the system.

What Concerned Radio Operators Can Do

Concerned radio operators are also encouraged to contact the American Radio Relay League for a BPL Tutorial, more information about the potential for severe spectrum pollution by BPL systems, how BPL trials have been abandoned because of severe spectrum pollution problems, and more. Contact Ed Hare at 1-860-594-0200 or w1rfi@arrl.org.


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