Washington Island looks to be loosing its BPL service

Looks like Washington Island is loosing its BPL service as part of the folding IBEC situation.



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.



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7 thoughts on “Washington Island looks to be loosing its BPL service

  1. What was especially sad is that this company that in its farewell shot proclaimed itself as the champion for rural america didn’t manage to tell the French Broad General Manager that it was pulling the plug. This is not how my champions act.

    The bottom line is that although Access BPL that doesn’t use the ham bands can be somewhat “ham-friendly,” IBEC did not choose that path well. To the contrary, they told ARRL, the national association for amateur radio, that they were going to not use the amateur bands universally; they showed local hams how successfully that worked; they demonstrated this “notching” to ARRL staff in central Virginia, then almost as soon as ARRL representatives left, they turned the ham bands back on, claiming that they would fix any problems if reported by hams. Just try to imagine using your cell phone that way, with some company making strong radio noise on the cell bands, but saying that this is okay because if people complain, they will fix it.

    The bottom line is that although this failure is financial, the very real costs of trying to make Access BPL work reliably, whether for Internet Access or for smart-grid applications, have been very much a factor in the financial failure of almost every Access BPL deployment to date. Distribution power lines are simply a poor substitute for well-shielded cable, properly engineered and shielded twisted pair or glass fiber.

    Every BPL system that remains in the United States is following the successful model of not using the amateur bands in their deployment. Every BPL system that has not followed that model has failed, for whatever reason. For any type of BPL to be successful, it must not use spectrum that is in use nearby. HomePlug and the HomeGrid Forum, two organizations that develop specifications for in-premise BPL, have put permanent notching for Amateur Radio into their specifications. This is a successful way to use power lines for data, as with millions of HomePlug devices deployed, ARRL has seen no harmful interference reports involving HomePlug products. Unfortunately, despite the broken promises, some BPL companies have not yet gotten that simple message.

    The FCC should take the still-available opportunity to take this successful model and turn into equally successful regulations. Until it does so, there will be continued failures littering the broadband roadside.

    Ed Hare, W1RFI
    ARRL Lab Manager
    225 Main St.
    Newington, CT 06111
    Tel: 860-594-0318
    Email: w1rfi@arrl.org

  2. k9zw says:

    The whole IBEC BPL thing wouldn’t exist without the subsidies that funded the foray into the market.

    In the case of Washington Island the investor funded broadband that already existed found itself with a subsidized competitor in BPL, and the local Electrical Coop bought in.

    The Grant to the Coop apparently ended up a Mortgage with every user (whether a BPL subscriber or not) assessed a monthly debt service fee.

    The experience of notching being turned off Ed mentions was repeatedly the case on the Island – though IBEC would claim that power outages lost the notching configuration (sure…. yet every other parameter remained …. sure….).

    That the Island Coop apparently hasn’t a continuance plan or insurance for lack of continuance perhaps was naively assuming IBEC was too big to fail.

    With a worthless investment in time & money, and a debt to work off for perhaps decades, the “cheap money” of government subsidy suddenly is a Trojan Horse rather than a gift.

    That for a fraction of the investment the already existing Motorola Canopy system could have been extended to the whole island would have been a much better choice – so much better that despite the subsidy to the Coop’s BPL the private provider actually found it economically viable (like they make money doing it) to make most of that expansion happen.

    I very much agree that the self serving parting shot as IBEC runs out of steam was self-lauding grandstanding by a subsidy-parasite that should have never been fed our tax dollars.



    • Hi, Steve,

      As you know, ARRL has been trying to get the FCC to write rules for BPL that at least somewhat contain its severe interference potential. The League has repeatedly asked the FCC to make the requirement to notch the Amateur bands a permanent part of the rules for Access BPL, as they have done for select federal users. In the 2nd Report and Order that the FCC released in December, the Commission responded by not doing so, citing the excellent experience that IBEC has had in responding to complaints and using the existing rules that require that carriers that cause harmful interference must be turned off.

      You and I both know that this is far from the way these cases work in reality, and that such practice at best reduces noise that typically returns for various reasons.

      All of those on Washington Island and in any other areas where this type of BPL was deployed can help ensure that the FCC is made fully aware that the claims of excellence in resolving interferece problems that IBEC made to them are simply not as excellent as IBEC had claimed. This can be entered into the record in the BPL rulemaking proceeding by using the URL at:


      The proceeding number is 04-37. If you are using the “express” link, you will have to manually enter the proceeding number, as per the note at the top of the page.

      I would encourage any Washington Island hams that had interference problems that were not adequately resolved, either because of the residual noise that was still left after the ‘cure’ or because the noise levels returned sooner rather than later, to file a comment into the BPL rulemaking proceeding, accurately describing their experiences and explaining to the FCC wny it should honor ARRL’s request to have permanent notching for the amateur bands.

      Ed Hare, W1RFI

  3. Chuck Olson says:

    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:


    Chuck Olson, WB9KZY
    Washington Island, WI

    • k9zw says:

      Hi Chuck WB9KZY

      Mnay thanks for the recordings – these are so illustrative of the disruptive nature of BPL to amateur bands and other radio reception.

      Whether the legacy gear is possible to run with technical, support, licensing/approval, spares/maintenance and economic issues would be a question for the Island Electrical Cooperative’s leadership. IBEC has implied that when they close the BPL systems they support close too.

      Hopefully they will have some answers.



  4. Steve, Is there a way we can verify the amount of debt that WI electric cooperative is on the hook for? Are we (electric cooperative members) required to pay for all the now soon to be useless equipment, that was purchased with an RUS loan for BPL equipment located here on the island? Thanks

    • k9zw says:

      Hello Jerry

      That would be a question for the Co-op Board. Back in the day the figures of what was available under RUS was published, though whether they spent exactly that amount and what the current amount is should be available to every cooperative member.

      They may have taken on less (or more) than the RUS subsidy, retired some debt or taken on more, paid down some or paid only interest (or less if allowed) and have debts at different terms & rates.

      Back from four years ago we learned it was loans, not grants:

      Washington Island Electrical Co-op & IBEC’s application to RUS has been approved.

      Though only recently posted the approval date is backdated to June 27th 2008, when all of IBEC’s pending Loan Requests were approved.

      It is not possible to tell if in respect to Washington Island if IBEC received either a Loan and or a Loan Guarantee – really the effect is the same. Even the dollar amount is being kept from the public eye by RUS.

      They did NOT get a grant though. No Grants for Wisconsin were approved.

      I’ve not looked at the annual reports, though in 2008 the Coop listed $70,000 as BPL expense as a started, and their manager had implied to other islander’s that the Coop would be bearing 10% of the cost outside of the loans.

      All best & 73,


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