Oct. 20, 2004 COMTek, the territory's newest Internet service provider, found itself in the national spotlight last week when the chairmen of both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission visited one of the company's stateside operations.
Michael Powell, of the FCC, and Pat Wood, of the FERC, went to Manassas, Va., last week to see COMTek demonstrate a new technology known as broadband-over-power-lines, or BPL. The visit came as the FCC deliberated over rules to govern the deployment of this technology.
According to published reports, BPL turns the power grid into a conduit for the Internet, allowing subscribers to plug a special modem into any electrical outlet for an always-on connection.
Powell and Wood were impressed enough by the COMTek demonstration that on Oct. 14 the FCC released its BPL regulations, and the two issued a joint statement urging utilities across the United States to pursue this technology, saying they believe "BPL holds great promise for the American public."
In a separate statement, Powell said, BPL "represents the highest goals and ambitions of universal service," promising "ubiquitous [Internet] service to all Americans at affordable rates."
According to Ginny McAdams, a spokeswoman for COMTek , the Manassas site was chosen from among dozens of pilot BPL sites across the nation because of its distinction as the "first commercially deployed network in the United States."
A report in the Potomac News Online says approximately 900 Manassas residents have signed up for BPL, and the city has made it available to approximately 3,000 to 4,000 homes by adding a device to existing city electrical transformers. Allen Todd, the city's Utilities Department director, said the entire city should be outfitted by January.
And with service that starts at $27 per month, the citizens of Manassas are getting their Web fix at a fraction of what telephone and cable-based providers are charging.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, V.I. Water and Power Authority executive director, said Wednesday he spent much of last week at a BPL conference in San Francisco held by the American Public Power Association.
Bruno-Vega said the technology "seems to have a potential usage here in the V.I." The problem, according to Vega, is that much of the electricity in the territory is distributed over copper wires, which he says have a limited data capacity.
The WAPA chief said underground conduits for fiber-optic lines much better for data transfer are being installed throughout the territory with all new construction. But it looks like BPL in the territory is still a long way off.
"We would like to undertake a feasibility study and also see if there is interest from the community and from vendors of this technology," Bruno-Vega said.
With a green light from the FCC and a successful partnership with the Manassas power supplier already under its belt, McAdams says COMTek will be aggressively pursing similar contracts in other municipalities.
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