BPL – Yesterday’s technology with Tomorrow’s dollars

“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



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