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What happens to the BPL Systems with IBEC gone? 6 - January - 2012

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Some very interesting questions surrounding IBECs sudden closure and the BPL orphan systems like the one on Washington Island WI-001L:

Guys -

My question is, what happens if the hardware is left as is ?  Even assuming the BPL system use is stopped, won’t the hardware still be humming along and interfering ?

No, I never got an antenna up before the cold weather and the hard, hard ground showed up.

Here are some recordings I made last year during and after a power outage:

http://wb9kzy.com/bpl.htm

Chuck Olson, WB9KZY
Washington Island, WI

Chuck WB9KZY’s recordings catch the BPL non-interference pledge out – revealing that it was pure bunk and the BPL system is a major source of RFI.

There are some really sticky legacy issues, as the Island Coop can’t legally simply leave it up and running until it breaks or try to run it themselves.

Per Ed Hare W1RFI at the ARRL HQ [Bold Unline is Mine]:

If the system there follows the pattern I’ve seen elsewhere, it operates about 15 to 40 dB over the FCC limits and doesn’t notch the NTIA bands. Now that it is going to be disconnected, but powered up, it will continue to make noise, but have two additional rules violations associated with it — it is no longer controlled as to power level and frequency as required by the rules and it does not have an operator at all, much less one that is listed in the BPL database.

At this point, has anyone talked to the utility? Do we know what they intend to do?  They really need to get that system operating legally, or climb all the poles and disconnect the power. Simply turning off the head end is not sufficient, as that adds to the illegality by making the system that is still generating carriers uncontrolled.

It seems unless the Island gains full control of the whole system getting itself listed in the BPL database as a control operator and supports the system fully, it will be an illegal system with likely every increasing problems and liability for the Coop for its rule violations.

Perhaps a third-party manager could be brought in, though whether another provider could be found that would take over the ex-IBEC Access-BPL system isn’t very likely – especially if the system were expected to remain in continuous operation.

Presently it would seem the best choice could be to power down the head and disconnect every pole mounted unit, leaving everything in place until a long term solution is found, or better weather allows “havesting” of the orphaned gear for salvage.

What a mess! Worse is the costs may not end with a shut down, depending on how the funding repayment in respect to discontinuance works.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Washington Island looks to be loosing its BPL service 3 - January - 2012

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Looks like Washington Island is loosing its BPL service as part of the folding IBEC situation.

http://www.arrl.org/news/bpl-provider-ibec-announces-shutdown

http://www.nelsoncountylife.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/IBEC-end-service-letter.jpg

While BPL remains in general not very ham-friendly and not likely to be missed by many hams not employed in the industry,  it is sad to see the Island suffer this loss as their direct investment wasn’t insignificant. It may have been that the financial risks were understated or not understood if the BPL service provider were to fold.

It will be a shame if the Islanders end up paying for years for an instantly obsolete system they won’t even be able to use.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Always Amazing – A Washington Island Report – Part 2 – The BPL Report, Bitters Club and Island Fun 10 - July - 2011

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Some more Washington Island WI-001L Observations.

BPL

On the Island IBEC has run through the Washington Island Electrical Coop their BPL product. Hearing mixed reports on different aspects of this. Reports are that IBEC has been very helpful in notching to minimize RFI from the system, but that the service is not up to the speeds or reliability expected at the user level.

First hand reports from current BPL subscribers on Boyer’s Bluff Area, East Side of the Island Area and first hand experience at our rental on the North Shore of the Island confirm that the experience once outside of the town is not good. One user said they would be better off to buy postage stamps and ask that web pages be mailed to them, as when their BPL works it is so slow as to be the same speed as mail.

Another described the BPL outage last year that kept them from doing their Christmas shopping by internet, so as she described it “we had a QVC Christmas instead.”

So basically BPL usually doesn’t bother the Island Ham very much once IBEC has “tuned for your location” though it also isn’t up to being your station’s internet connection unless you are within a short walk of the BPL source.

Bitters Club

This week both my XYL Alison KC9MPL and I joined the “Bitters Club” at Nelsen’s Bar. Nelsen’s never closed during the prohibition, resorting to serving Angostura Bitters for alcohol with the claim that they were for “medicinal purposes.” Commemorating that “stick to it” each person who drinks a shot of Bitters is issued a card, stamped with the thumbprint in bitters of the barkeeper, and signs the Bitter Logbook. While I’ve renewed my Bitters Club membership each year as long as we’ve been going to the Island, Alison KC9MPL had avoided it until this year. While she held up her end, it remains to be seen if she ever renews!

Here are some links on Nelsen’s:

http://www.washingtonisland.com/local-business/nelsens-hall/
http://wpt2.org/npa/IW802bittersbar.cfm
http://www.wisconsinosity.com/Door/bitters_make_life_on_island_oh_so_sweet.htm

For any of you who may have traveled Europe, the German “Underberg” is similar taste.

Other Island Fun

We had visitors – once by boat and once by mini-van. Was really nice to have friends track us down and spend time!

There was an unfortunate small aircraft landing scrunch while we were there, though all the important stuff turned out ok. The couple were fine, though the lady was ambulanced off island for observation due to concerns over a prior injury needing checking out, and their dogs were fine. Afraid they did write off a rather nice looking Mooney Eagle though. Always can get more machinery – as it is the people who count!

We caught two concerts – one serious piano work performed at a stunning level, and the other light hearted Denveresque Pop over a sushi meal at Fiddler’s Green Pub.

No trip is complete without at least one stop at the Albatross Drive-In for an “Albi Burger” and a slice of Pizza another day at “Island Pizza.” Timing didn’t work out and I missed on K K Fiske for a Lawyer Fish lunch though.

Looked at Island property for something to rent longer term or buy. Pretty daunting pocketbook consideration with two youngsters at University now and our third joining them in two years.

Set up the FlexControl Knob for George W9EVT with his Flex-5000, and sorted some issues out with his Icom IC-7800’s antenna selection setup. Really light on the number of QSOs – kind of hard to stay inside when the weather simply rocks.

Alison & I quietly recognized our 25th Wedding Anniversary while on the Island. Not a bad start these twenty-five years.

As always we highly recommend WI-001L Washington Island. Learned tonight during the area 160m every night net that a friend Mike KD9TZ and his son were on the Island overlapping our stay, though they were backpacking and overnighted on the next Island out – Rock Island. Hearty souls! Rock Island involves a second ferry ride to this State Park – see http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/specific/rockisland/

All best and,

73

Steve
K9ZW

BPL Notching for the Few 13 - June - 2009

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, US Islands.
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Recently the radio amateurs most affected by the Washington Island BPL project were visited by representatives of IBEC. It appears that the Washington Island Electrical Co-op was making a good faith effort to arrange for notching of their BPL system of the Amateur Radio Bands for these amateurs directly in proximity of their shacks.

Several interesting things were learned (I must clarify I was not present and these are recounted by Islanders):

  1. While manual introduction of notching local to this static QTHs was planned, the mobile operator or casual operator working elsewhere on Washington Island would face un-notched BPL.
  2. It was confirmed that the BPL gear was loosing its notching settings, in some cases several times a day. IBEC is working on correction of the loss of configuration on power-down, as the present gear doesn’t all maintain settings.
  3. The present system is running at half the expected throughput for much of system, though a few segments are up to speed. This speed is aggregate and would be divided between the users on a segment.
  4. The notching problem was serious enough that two IBEC team members came up from Alabama to work on the Island System.
  5. The Electrical Co-op’s manager made his FIRST visit to some of the ham’s shacks, despite years of invitation to come and visit.
  6. An additional investment by the Co-op is in the works to add “Smart Meter Reading” by BPL with a corresponding expected elimination of several Island jobs.

Each of these points deserves a bit of pondering as for their greater meaning.

That Mobile Operators would be unprotected is a very open admission of the Washington Island Electrical Co-op/IBEC system operating outside of it’s licensed frequencies, and an open statement of no intention to rectify this problem system wide.

Someone needs to explain to IBEC and the Washington Island Co-op that there are no second class FCC licensees because they operate Mobile, and absence of a licensed Amateur’s Shack does not create a free-for-all for their equipment to operate where specifically not licensed.

Having demonstrated that their equipment can operate within its license ANY of their gear operating elsewhere needs to be either corrected or shut down.

73

Steve
K9ZW

BPL – Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars 8 - June - 2009

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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“Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars”

The debacle of Washington Island’s new BPL system is outlined in a the comments of a recent article “New broadband technologies can connect even the most remote places” http://wistechnology.com/articles/5991/

I’ve included some of the comments as quotes below.

The article, while not accurate or well researched, does highlight the technical and economic BPL problem now on Washington Island.

The Island Electrical Co-op is one of a handful of Utilities in the State of Wisconsin not under PSC (Public Service Commission) supervision, which has lead to their Quasi-Government status being used to go into competition with private enterprise at their rate payers’ expense, regardless of economic vitality.

The eventual secondary goal of eliminating meter reading employment – of terminating jobs on the Island – by the use of rate payers’ surcharges for the unrecoverable BPL costs is simply not being talked about.

You do hear some nonsense about “Internet Jobs” offsetting the planned job losses. This claim seems to ignore the fact that BPL per say wasn’t needed to create Washington Island “Internet Jobs,” only access to High Speed Internet.

That access for much of the Island has existed for years prior to the co-op becoming a third option for internet.

A number of Island “Internet Jobs” and “Internet Commuters” have existed for YEARS using Satellite, Direct High Speed Wireless from the Mainland (limited to those with line-of-sight unfortunately), the wide-spread Island Motorola Canopy High Speed Wireless system and the Cellular High Speed Wireless in some areas of the Island.

To claim a latecomer to the Island internet provider options will create new Island jobs is disingenuous at best.

This Washington Island mistake of “Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars” does not need to be repeated elsewhere.

There are a few other research errors that have crept in

- the Washington Island is not Wisconsin’s first BPL installation. (Check out the RUS and other BPL websites)

- DCWIS had a privately financed Motorola Canopy High Speed Internet system available for the greater part of the island for a couple years. The Washington Island Electrical Co-op was itself a subscriber to this service when it applied for its subsidized loan. RUS ignored this venture to fund the BPL project.

- The BPL project has additional options of High Speed Satellite (which is not considered a decision influencer by RUS) and Wireless Cellular Carrier Internet as competitors.

- The Washington Island Electrical Co-op is subsidizing the BPL project by assessing their electrical customers (the 2009 cost beyond revenue for BPL are listed at $75,000 in their annual report).

- It is nonsense to claim that the Washington Island Electrical Cooperative is the first and only utility in the world with a fully deployed BPL system. (Again a bit of Google-Time will cover that misstatement).

In summary the cooperative has chosen to venture forward with one of the slower Broadband technologies using taxpayer subsidized loans fully knowing that the project could still never be self-sustaining, all despite well knowing their cliental was served by a mature true High Speed Wireless system.

Not only is it wishful thinking economically but they have saddled the island with yesterday’s technology.

A phone call reminded me BPL is consuming one of every twenty dollars spent with the Electrical Co-Op as a cross subsidy from Power-Only customers to the BPL & Power customers.

Time will not be kinder to BPL as even as an unbilled “free offering” as many Islanders chose to pay for true High Speed with one of the other carriers.

Ongoing costs aside, the Co-Op has taken on a considerable mortgage that will take decades to retire at the 5% levy on other services.
Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars is a pretty unattractive future for this BPL project.

One area not addressed in most BPL discussion is the Radio Frequency pollution and interference the system tends to cause.

Another phone call passed on that the Washington Island system has been subject to constant work to address interference issues to FCC licensed operations, and has shown a tendency to loose it’s memory of the corrective “notching” programming changes that have been made.

It appears that the Co-Op has not even purchased the test equipment to physically verify that their BPL system is in compliance with the operational FCC license and has no idea if they are blanking out or interfering with Emergency Service Communications, Broadcast Services or Two-Way licensed communications.

The Stakeholders in the Washington Island Electrical Co-Op really were given a good spin of “bait & switch” when the promoted “Grant” suddenly became a huge Mortgage.

Will this multi-million dollar investment to provide an alternative to existing commercial High Speed Internet on the island ever pay off? The Co-Op’s released numbers offer no possibility for recovery of the investment. None, never.

How did the Co-op end up encumbered with new massive debt for such a speculative venture without Cop-Op membership approval? Why should Power-Only clients subsidize this rash venture?

The IBM potential for line monitoring is off in the future – a potential and not even a promise – again without any statement of what the additional investment needed would be or cost impact.

The Co-Op has claimed they could reduce employment and therefor costs through the project, but is this socially desirable on an Island with chronic unemployment problems? And it would appear that that jobs may have been simply moved off-island to support personnel on the mainland.

The Co-op announced their intention to be a quasi-public competitor for the Island high speed internet market several years before they had any possibility of implementing a BPL system, arguably stifling private investment in Island High Speed Internet and without question delaying the deployment of non-Satellite Island High Speed internet by years.

Socially questionable, financially irresponsible and technically naive, this project has condemned the Island to paying off a huge debt for a duplication of services already available.

Again simply put “Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars.”

The big question now is how does the community of Washington Island get out from under the BPL debt and the BPL technology problems?

When the Island system finishes its “Free Offer” of no-charge BPL the real economic impact from inability to recover costs will become more acute.

The liability taken on is stunning – knowing that the system grossly interferes with Emergency Communications let’s hope there is no property loss, or human loss made worse or caused by the BPL system blanking out the Emergency Communications we all depend upon. Specially as the Co-Op has economized by not having the appropriate test gear in use, and has chosen as a default to allow the interference rather than having default being maximum notching, one could speculate that their could be not limit to the liability exposure.

The illegal interference to Broadcast and Licensed FCC services other commenters and correspondents mention may be less critical, but they are no different than if the Co-Op suddenly decided to constantly park its trucks across your driveway – it is wrong, illegal and the Co-Op eventually would be forced to either bring the system into compliance or cease operations.

The BPL technology has some other weaknesses. Unlike the DCWIS Motorola Canopy High Speed Wireless which arrives on the Island by a pair of very high speed wireless links with the mainland, the BPL system requires that the full Utility infrastructure be operational before Internet can be delivered.

The BPL Internet arrives by submarine cable and is brought through the on-Island telephone switching building. Both must be in operation to get the Internet to the Co-Op.

At that point the Island Electrical grid needs to be running, stable and in-place from the Co-Op to the end server. If a tree drops on the power line, as they so often do on this wooded Island, putting your home network up on a generator will not bring back the internet as it often can with the Motorola System and usually does with the Satellite & Cellular Internets systems. Rather you loose not only power, but your internet.

With so many people going towards VoIP (Internet Phone Service) and TV/Entertainment delivered by Internet, this combined loss of power & BPL could also cut a site’s phone & TV services.

To be fair with the low delivered speed and the on-going lack of reliability it is really not very likely that an Island resident could depend on the BPL service for Internet Phone and Internet TV services without backup.

Given the technological limitations, and the huge unrecoverable economic burden to the Island, Islanders would be well served to investigate if their is a way to get rid of this disastrous project in total.

Can the Island BPL mitigate the technological limitation and interference issues? Perhaps partially, but unlikely. In the end the slow throughput alone will obsolete this BPL installation.

Can the financial burden be lifted? Here there is more hope. It will not be pretty, but there are so many problems with how this project came into being ranging from the Co-Op management misleading the membership on everything from the basics of whether it was Grant or Mortgages on offer, to not obtaining membership approval, not the RUS program illegally ignoring existing Broadband providers & playing administrative games removing their responsibility to do the legally required research, to IBEC’s incestuous relationship as a technology vendor applying for loan’s for its customers.

It is time for the Island Electrical-Only Co-Op customer to “cry foul” and put a stop to the levy to cross subsidize the BPL fiasco.

It is also time to put a stop of the use of Government Money to go into competition against established Private Enterprise, both through the RUS monies, the on-going operational subsidies and the Free-Internet offering.

If a private firm were to do this – to provide goods below costs in am effort to push out other competitors – they would be held to task.

IBEC looks for organizations like the Co-Op, who through quirks of history & law are not subject to Public Service Commission (PSC) oversight, until they find a group foolish enough to “take the bait” and but into their technology.

The back-room decisions and future financial burden of this Co-Op venturing off into a new business, being vendor-led into disaster, speaks to those who would bring the Co-Op under PSC oversight.

As for expanding the BPL experiment anywhere else in Wisconsin, it is economically difficult to possibly justify any further adoptment of an obsolete technology with no hope of cost recovery.

The Washington Island mistake of Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars” does not need to be repeated.

There are other interesting comments at the link above.

Little of the now factual is new, as it was predicted over the past years here:

Just Faking It – BPL BS Exposed
Consigned to the Archives or a Future Fact? BPL and Amateur Radio
More Connectivity Options for WI-001L Washington Island Operations
Listening to Noise – RF Background Noise Level Measurments

73

Steve
K9ZW

FCC’s Blind Love of BPL Shot Down in US Court of Appeals Decision 25 - April - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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The ARRL’s contention that the FCC was in violation putting BPL interests ahead of Licensees (including Amateur Radio) was support by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a landmark decision.

From the ARRL Press Release:

Court Finds FCC Violated Administrative Procedure Act in BPL Decision (Apr 25, 2008 ) — The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today released its decision on the ARRL’s Petition for Review of the FCC’s Orders adopting rules governing broadband over power line (BPL) systems. The Court said, “We grant the [ARRL's] petition in part and remand the rule to the Commission. The Commission failed to satisfy the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA“) by redacting studies on which it relied in promulgating the rule and failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its choice of the extrapolation factor for measuring Access BPL emissions.”

The decision of 38 pages of legalese can be found at:  http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/200804/06-1343-1112979.pdf

Expect a “plain language” summary in the next few days from the ARRL.  EDIT – Here is the full ARRL Write-Up:  http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2008/04/25/10064/

Well done to the league as the interests of licensed Radio Amateurs everywhere have been solidly reaffirmed.

73

Steve
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