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Fast, cheap and spread all over

About a decade ago, a computer connected to the Internet had to sit near a phone jack. The connection was slow and expensive.

Then, broadband internet and wireless routers came along.

The computer could be anywhere in the house or the backyard and the connection was 25 times faster than dial-up.

The cost more than doubled.

Now, a local company is testing an Internet service that would be 50 times faster than dial-up, could be tuned in like a radio station anywhere in the Bowling Green area, and is significantly less expensive than competing broadband services.

It may even lower the cost of electricity.

The technology that Internet service provider Dacor Computer Services is currently testing along West Wooster Street, North Grove and Evers Streets is known as Broadband over Power Lines.

After turning the city’s power lines into network cables, the BPL system wires Dacor’s Internet connection to a series of wireless routers placed periodically along the lines.

All residents within approximately 750 feet of a router can communicate with the Internet using standard wireless or wifi transceivers, available almost anywhere electronics are sold for about $50.

According to Stossel, even though the network’s signal is present anywhere in the test area, security is no more of an issue than it would be with any other Internet service.

The equipment used comes equipped with all standard security technologies.

‘The manufacturer of the equipment has gone to reasonable lengths to make sure that administrative access is quite secure,’ he said.

Several residents in the test area are currently paying to receive the connection.

Anyone living in the current service area who’d like to connect to wifi from Dacor can contact them at 419-352-3568.

Currently, rates are $19.95 a month for speeds ranging from 9mbps or six times the speed of cable internet to about 768kbps, which is similar to DSL Internet.

According to George Stossel, president of Dacor, the fluctuation in speeds is the result of ‘noisy’ power lines, and is one of the reasons the project is currently on hold.

‘We deployed the pilot in one of the oldest areas in town infrastructure-wise, and it turned out, sort of to our surprise, to be quite a noisy place. It has gotten to the point where we’re reduced to levels equal to DSL, for instance, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as we want it. We prefer to be at or above cable modem levels at all times,’ he said.

The noise originates from various problems with the lines themselves, but according to Stossel, it is easy to locate the source of the problem. Dacor notifies the city utility department, which then comes out and fixes the problem.

Since the power lines and poles are owned by the city, the first person Stossel went to when starting the BPL test was Utility Director Darrel Stockberger.

The city laid out standards that Stossel’s system would have to meet if it was to use the lines.

First, it had to use only medium voltage power lines to reduce the risk of damaging low voltage lines running to homes. Running wirelessly into the home solved this.

Second, the system could not disrupt HAM radio operator’s communications.

Working with Amperion, Inc., which manufactures the equipment used in the test, and HAM radio operators within the city, Stossel was able to fine tune the system’s frequencies so they would not interfere with HAM communications.

In fact, as the BPL system requires removing noise on the power lines, the radio operator’s situation was helped more than it was hurt.

Customers involved with the test, according to Stossel, have even been able to distribute the Dacor signal via a wireless router in their home.

Another standard set by the city on the system was that it needed to be able to work with the city’s wireless electric meters.

‘Wifi is one of the technologies that can be used to access the data collection units for our automated meter reading system,’ Stockberger said. ‘If it is a system that gets us close to 100% remote read, then it reduces the amount of personnel required to read the meters everyday.’

He added that the number of utility accounts that open, close, and change hands each year also requires a serious number of man hours, especially in a city like Bowling Green where more than 10,000 residents move every year. Those man hours could be eliminated by the BPL system.

The final concern of the city was that the system could be used by all the city’s Internet service providers, not just Dacor.

According to Stossel, all ISPs, including Dacor, would be required to pay fees to the city, but added that this would all depend on if the city chose to have ownership of the entire BPL system.

That is the crux of the system’s expansion.

If the city decides to own the broadband equipment, it may be entering itself into a legal battle with other broadband providers.

‘There’s been some discussion from the telecom companies of blocking government entry into the broadband business, and if that happens then we’re looking at proceeding privately with it,’ Stossel said. ‘And that would be a matter of getting funding together to pay for the infrastructure’.

So far, the city has only invested in the portion of the project required to test the system’s ability to read utility meters.

According to Stockberger, discussions on the city’s ownership of the system are ‘preliminary.’

Legal issues aside, customers are happy with the wifi Internet service provided by the test.

Larry Nader, whose home is on West Wooster Street directly across from one of the BPL system’s wireless routers, is pleased.

‘I like it. It’s a really neat service. We were on DSL previously, but now service is $30 cheaper,’ he said.

For Stossel though, it’s all about the wireless.

‘That’s the beauty of it,’ he said. ‘I’ve actually taken my laptop down to City Park and logged on to the network and surfed the net in the park.’

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