Va. power co-op lights up broadband

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative's Broadband-Over-Powerline system will get a pilot test in Nelson County.

Internet users in rural Virginia will get their first taste of broadband in the next few weeks, courtesy of a new service that provides access over the same lines that deliver electric power to homes and businesses.

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative's (CVEC) Broadband-Over-Powerline system is being offered to about 4,000 homes in Nelson County through a pilot program. Assuming no glitches are discovered, officials said, the service will then be available to CVEC's other customers in the 14-county area covered by the cooperative.

The system will deliver unlimited, two-way Internet access at a minimum of 256 kilobits/sec for just under $30 a month.

"We already run an Internet service provider through a subsidiary operation so we already know what the demand [for the broadband service] is likely to be," said Greg Kelly, CVEC member services manager. "At the price we are offering the service, around half of the people we surveyed said they would be likely to take it."

The nonprofit CVEC provides power to around 30,000 account holders.

There is some limited broadband service already being delivered to central Virginia by satellite, Kelly said, and fixed wireless technology is beginning to make an appearance, but these broadband services are mainly aimed at users on the outskirts of urban areas.

Truly rural users are limited to dial-up services, he said, and even then speeds range from 19 kilobits/sec and into the "high 40s."

To use the service, which is being delivered in partnership with Huntsville Ala.-based International Broadband Electric Communications Inc., customers simply plug commercially available adapters into a regular wall socket.

As many as 15 power companies around the nation are thought to be conducting such trials before offering similar Internet services to their customers. From CVEC's perspective, it's the only way to offer the full spectrum of services that its members and customers pay for.

"In most cases, we will be the only game in town [for broadband access] throughout the territories we serve," Kelly said. "If anyone else showed an interest in wanting to do this, we'd probably stand by and cheer them on."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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