Just days after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law, today IBM announced that it successfully delivered broadband Internet service to rural areas over power lines. With $7 billion allocated to high speed Internet service, the Recovery Act is a boon for companies like IBM.
Big Blue’s timing might be serendipitous, but it is certainly on message. IBM is touting its relationships with rural electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia, as well as the cost-effectiveness of its solution. The deployments were subsidized by the Rural Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Electric power lines may also be a better alternative than wireless services for areas that have hilly terrain, and are more cost effective per mile than DSL telephone service, IBM’s Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks, told the New York Times.
I can’t help but think back to the push for electrification in rural areas after the Great Depression, and the role that played in modernizing undeveloped areas of the United States. Decades later, with the electric grid laid, IBM is saying that government subsidies will permit utilities to cover sparsely populated areas that may otherwise remain unserviced.
Indeed, there may be pent up demand for high speed services. IBM’s Blair noted that a rural utility cooperative in Michigan signed up 5,000 customers within two weeks. My brother lives in an area that is not serviced by cable, and I’m certain that he would jump at the opportunity to sign up for broadband.
My take is that electric power line data transmission will likely be part of a mix of broadband solutions. Different technologies will be better suited for specific regions, and government officials, working in partnership with companies including IBM will work it out over time. It goes without saying that there will be glitches and cost overruns along the way, but when all is said and done, broadband Internet will be significantly more accessible than it is today.