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City of Manassas to End BPL Service:

from The ARRL Letter on April 8, 2010
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City of Manassas to End BPL Service:

Once touted as "the most successful BPL deployment in the nation," the City of Manassas has decided to get out of the BPL business, once and for all. At a Special Meeting on Monday, April 5, the Manassas City Council -- acting on a recommendation from the Manassas Utilities Commission -- unanimously voted to discontinue Broadband over Powerline (BPL Internet service as of July 1, 2010 to the approximately 520 residents and businesses who currently subscribe to the service; these customers were told that they have three months to find a new Internet service provider.

According to Manassas City Clerk Andrea Madden, there was no discussion on the resolution to discontinue service and the motion was passed "without incident."

With the motion made by Councilman Jonathan Way and seconded by Mark Wolfe, the City Council cited three reasons for discontinuing BPL service: a declining customer base, an annual income deficit of almost $166,000 from providing Internet service, and a determination that AMI [Advanced Metering Infrastructure] platforms don't require BPL. Way and Wolfe favored shutting down the BPL system in November 2009, the last time this matter was brought to the Council's attention. "The City needs to get out of BPL forthwith," Way said back in 2009. "It's not a good product. The whole business is not financially sound and it never has been."

Manassas residents pay $24.95 each month to receive Internet service via BPL. In November 2009, the Utility Commission showed the Council that little more than 500 residents and 46 businesses currently subscribed to the service, which since 2008, has been run by the City "It's costing a little more to maintain the system than we projected in the budget," Manassas Director of Utilities Michael Moon told the Council. "The original projections were that the customer base would be double this." In September 2008, the Manassas City Council voted to assume control of the BPL service from COMTek, the private company that served (back then) approximately 675 residents.

In January 2009, there were 637 residential and 51 commercial BPL subscribers in Manassas. In February 2010, those numbers had shrunk to 457 residential and 50 commercial subscribers. The Utilities Commission said that the total revenue brought in by BPL for FY2010 was almost $186,000, but the expense of keeping up the City-owned system was costing the ratepayers a little more than $351,000, resulting in a net loss of almost $166,000.

"In October 2003, the Manassas City Council was told that it could expect as much as $4.5 million in revenue from awarding a 10 year BPL franchise," said ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. "Instead, six months later, BPL had turned into a money pit for the City of Manassas. Anyone thinking of investing in BPL would do well to learn from the Manassas experience."

In November 2009, Manassas' Assistant Utilities Director (Electric) Gregg Paulson told the ARRL that they had "every intention of putting BPL Internet service in the budget and the Council can decide its fate as they work through the budget process." Paulson also said that while Internet service to consumers would "probably" be the only thing that would be cut if the Council decided to forego BPL, he left the door open as to using the BPL infrastructure for other purposes: "We still own the BPL network, but we may or may not use this network for utility monitoring or other AMI purposes."

But according to the resolution passed by the Council, the Manassas Utilities Department will not be using BPL for AMI, but instead will use "a combination of fiber and wireless technology exclusive of the BPL." According to the Agenda Statement for the Special Meeting, the BPL equipment will be removed from the system and "inquiries will be made regarding the salvage value."

Sumner said that the ARRL's concern was not with the business plan -- that he termed "obviously flawed" -- but with "the interference to licensed radio services -- and in particular the Amateur Radio Service -- inevitably caused by putting radio frequency energy on unshielded, unbalanced conductors. Manassas was touted as 'the most successful BPL deployment in the nation' when FCC Chairman Michael Powell visited the site with much fanfare -- and, the ARRL maintains, in violation of the FCC's own rules -- on the eve of the FCC's vote to adopt inadequate protection for licensed radio services against interference from BPL systems. The taxpayers and ratepayers of Manassas are not the only ones who benefit from the end of this ill-considered foray into BPL. Radio amateurs in the Manassas area have good reason to celebrate, for they have spent countless hours documenting the widespread interference caused by the system."

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, is often overhead and extends across entire communities, these systems pose a significant interference potential to over-the-air radio services, including Amateur Radio.


The ARRL Letter

Member Comments:
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City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by K2JVI on April 8, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Thank goodness!! Interesting to note that the city is not considering BPL technology for any AMI purposes instead using a combination of wireless and fiber-optic technology. I find it rather comical that the former F.C.C. chairman, Michael Powell, was so enamored with this technology( as were many IT "professionals" using the term professional rather loosely) and it never took off for obvious reasons that any TRUE network professional (or RF engineer) could have told you 10 years ago. I won't go into the reasons as they have been covered here and elsewhere many times. Also find this passage comical:" According to the Agenda Statement for the Special Meeting, the BPL equipment will be removed from the system and "inquiries will be made regarding the salvage value." that about sums it up! Anyway, it was always worth a few laughs mentioning BPL where I work ( A level 1 ISP with accounts worldwide and with Bell Labs legacy). Like I always say-"Network with Class-do it with Glass,because Glass kicks(u know what)!!
73's and I could'nt be happier for the hams in the Manassas area, I'm sure you guys are breathing a big sigh of relief.
And, I'm proud to be a Virginian!  
by N4QA on April 9, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Congratulations, Manassas!
You have proven, beyond all shadow of doubt, that which thinking persons knew all along!
Bill, N4QA
City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by WB8YQJ on April 9, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Many of us knew this entire "public funding" idea for a fundamentally flawed engineering premise didn't pass the "smell test". Down in the rat cellar (Penny Stock traders CHAT BOARD), hams were met with insults and any other smug defamatory comments the greedy life's lids could come up with. They were SO SMUG, they would say it up front that connections had been bought at the highest levels. Maybe so, it was not enough to launch it.

If the LEAGUE never did anything else right since I've been a member - they prevailed this time.

The public funding of BPL would have eventually failed anyway, but timing was everything and before wifi had secured such a foothold, they thought they could stream enough garbage devices out into the marketplace (paid for by you and me) that it would never all be cleaned up, like some RF oil spill.

Some weasley amateur types took the opportunity (here on eham) and some other places to make themselves turncoat nuisances about what was at the time a highly inflammatory issue.

You can find them today trolling with lesser issues. The trolls have been defeated, a corrupt federal agency has been ruled against in court, and this BPL crap is nowhere to be seen in this neighborhood.

Good job Ed W1RFI and all, even though you'll say it aint over. !
RE: City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by K2JVI on April 9, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
What can I say, the marketplace prevailed and other technologies advanced leaving BPL in the dust.

On a lighter note, I think it would be fun if the hams in Manassas got on the air the very day(and possibly the hour) that BPL is turned off and celebrate that as an operating activity. I would certainly be willing to work as many Manassas hams as possible. Hey,just my .02 worth.


RE: City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by AE6RO on April 14, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I wonder if this had anything to do with our basically non-existent Solar Cycle 24? E.G, between increased band noise and decreased DX-ability, there was no longer a need to jam the shortwave bands. 73, John
P.S. Don't mess with me. I can spew with the best.
RE: City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by K4RAF on April 14, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Now what hams need to do is form a wireless ISP or WISP & serve those who are losing services. Trust me, there is a demand for wireless...
RE: City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by K1OU on April 15, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Does this mean that W9WHE will rejoin the ARRL?
RE: City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by K4RAF on April 15, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I don't think so, friends don't let friends join the ARRL...
City of Manassas to End BPL Service:  
by W0NHH on April 16, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Will this go down in history as the third battle of bull run?
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