Posts Tagged ‘broadband policy’

Smart Grid and Broadband Over Powerline

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

On November 9, 2009, the Brookings Institution held an event titled “Improving Broadband Innovation and Investment.”  A transcript as well as a video of the event may be found at

The event is described on the Brookings website as follows:

Broadband and wireless technologies are key elements of our nation’s economic, social and civic development. With the Federal Communications Commission’s stated goals of bringing broadband access to all Americans, it is crucial to determine how to be innovative when investing in broadband infrastructure. How will infrastructure development be funded? What is the proper mix of financial resources? How can we identify emerging technologies that will serve citizens and businesses?

The Participants were:


Darrell M. West, Vice President and Director, Governance Studies

Featured Panelists

John Horrigan, Consumer Research Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Federal Communications Commission

Robert Shapiro, Senior Policy Fellow

Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy

Thomas Z. Freedman, President, Freedman Consulting

Author of A Kindle in Every Backpack: A Proposal for eTextbooks in American Schools

During the Q & A session I asked why broadband over powerline (BPL) had dropped off the map even though it is a byproduct of the smart grid (that everybody including some of the panelists say we need and it would provide competition in the broadband market. Only Mr. Horrigan of the FCC attempted to answer and he emphasized that he could only repeat what he had heard, since it is not within his area of study or expertise.  His answer was that he had heard it was a technical problem due to the current architecture of the electrical grid.

Let me emphasize that this is not meant to be an attack on Mr. Horrigan or anybody else on that particular panel.  The Smart Grid concept covers a lot of territory and it is quite difficult to pin it down.  People cannot be experts on every subject about which someone might question them.  But I am rather puzzled about why BPL has failed to gain traction in the US.

The electric power industry was instrumental in wrestling control of the telecommunications industry from Ma Bell in the 1960s by providing their own internal communications system to their workers using microwave towers on electric rights-of-way.  As I recall, they successfully argued before the regulators that electric service was essential and power utilities should not be at the mercy of the phone company to handle outages and power emergencies.

As best as I can understand, the smart grid will operate by broadband communications, likely using both wired and wireless technologies, to monitor the grid and provide smart metering to the home.  So is the current grid architecture a huge barrier to the building of smart grid technology?  Will the smart grid as envisioned not reach into homes and the meters not transmit information in real time through hard wiring or wireless?

Answers… answers… who has answers?


Eminent Domain and Net Neutrality Issues

Friday, September 12th, 2008

In a Slate column (“On the Media  Obama vs. McCain on media policy 2008,”

Much of the fiber optics network as well as microwave towers exist on right-of-way leased by power companies, pipelines, and railroads, which they obtained through the use of or threat of eminent domain (see “Broadband Regulatory Issues: Access to Public Utility Right-of-Way and Division of Revenues” for the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, CSTB Broadband Study on “The Last Mile,” June 2000. This is a dated study, but it provides background for this claim).  Other parts of the network are on rights-of-way secured by telephone companies.  These rights-of-way are largely inherited from the old AT&T network, parts of which date back to the early 20th century.  Cable networks, at least the wired portions, exist through the FCC regulatory system that requires telephone companies to lease space to cable companies at rates set by FCC formula.  Plus every state has regulatory commissions with their own rules for the parts of the network that are considered to be intrastate.  There are local franchise agreements that grant benefits, usually in exchange for payments to the local government entity.  Often these contracts confer monopoly status upon the carrier.

So it’s not a question of government intervention vs. non-intervention.  It is, or it should be, a question of how best to protect the public interest, given that large corporate entities have been granted economic rights by all levels of government.

More to come at a later date.