RFI-heads...another approach to WSJ, both at editorial
and reportorial levels. Ron's kids and mine went to school
together. We're long time friends and neighbors.
From: Jim Jarvis [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 4:56 PM
To: Ronald Chen
Subject: FW: Broadband over Power Lines
I wrote to WSJ reporter Ken Brown today, regarding his piece
in Tuesday's Journal, on Broadband over Power Lines. In my
message, I suggest that BPL may simply represent bad investment,
and invite Ken to take another look at the topic.
Wonder if there might be an op-ed opportunity, or an editor
who needs to take a closer look at this story? Can you
suggest a contact?
From: Jim Jarvis [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 4:51 PM
Cc: Ronald Chen
Subject: Broadband over Power Lines
I read with interest your piece on BPL and amateur radio in
last Tuesday's journal.
As an investor and international business development professional,
I think you missed several critical points. The power industry would
like you not to see them. Your readers, however, should.
Broadband over Power Line is an assertion of national industrial policy.
As the power industry transitions from protected monopoly to free market
enterprise, it is forced to compete in capital markets with high-growth
firms. On the surface, participating in broadband distribution sounds
like an appealing growth opportunity.
But is it really a good investment? Industry insiders talk about "The
Convergence Market", where cable and telephone came together. By the
late 90's, cable had pulled fiber optics to the curb in 85-90% of the
standard metropolitan statistical areas. In many of these markets, there
are competing cable companies. Telco DSL service is pushing out now, to
be available at greater distances from the central offices, thanks to
line concentration schemes. On top of that, satellite broadband service
is available for many remote areas, as well. Not 100% coverage, but
What market is really available to the power industry? The unserved
market is less than 5% of population. Market theory developed over 30
years ago by folks at Harvard relates market share to profitability.
For a late entry to a market with several well-entrenched competitors,
it is highly unlikely that investment in market share will EVER show a
positive ROI, unless they have a disruptive technology. It is this same
theory, in practice, which drove GE's excellent performance over the past
With perhaps 5% of market unserved, where is the power industry focussing?
Small suburban towns like Penn Yann NY, and Manasas VA, where one finds
high concentration of potential customers, NOT the 5% in the unserved
The power industry has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to manage power
distribution (Remember last Fall's blackout?). Is it appropriate for public
policy to encourage it to divert investment funds from fundamental
and distribution infrastructure, to a risk-laden enterprise likely to
produce sub-standard returns?
>From a technical perspective, the power industry broadband systems are
multi-modal. That is, they use fiber optics as well as power lines, as
appropriate, and ultimately use WiFi to get across the power transformers
every few houses, on the customer side. It's a more complex solution than
either dsl or cable. Therefore, their capital costs will be higher than
their competitors. Hardly 'disruptive technology'. Can they ever hope to
Your article happened to focus on amateur radio, as a vocal group concerned
with BPL's spectral pollution. You ignored a list of agencies concerned
the problem, including the NTIA, FAA, APCOA, and the Airline Pilots
If the police car responding to your traffic accident can't receive dispatch
signals, or the ambulance you're riding in can't communicate with the
ER, or the aircraft you're riding in has its air to ground communications or
navigation compromised...YOU would be affected by BPL's interference.
You also missed the subtle point that BPL was tried in the UK, Austria and
Japan, and EVERY ONE OF THOSE TRIALS was shut down due to unacceptable
on transient safety services. And yes, amateur radio was affected as well.
The image of Rick Lindquist tapping out morse code needs to be balanced
against another, more technologically progressive face:
AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, a 501c(3) organization, has
a mission to build and launch high orbit communications satellites enabling
continuous global coverage. Using software defined radios, with wideband,
intermodal voice-data-imaging capability, with small, highly agile stations
capable of providing GPS coordinated, on-demand disaster-response
AMSAT partners with education, industry and government to launch these
provide new generations of experienced space scientists. THAT is the
socially relevant side of amateur radio.
Less than two weeks after last year's big blackout, FCC commissioner
talked about "Digital Nirvana", in the context of BPL and extended broadband
unserved populations. One wonders how she maintained a straight face when
it took the power industry close to two weeks to restore service to DC's
suburbs, in the wake of hurricane Isabel.
I would argue that national power distribution is a critical-path
to the economy, and needs to remain a regulated industry. It cannot
compete in capital markets by trying to look like a high-growth investment.
Separation of generation and distribution merely shifts maintenance
away from revenue streams. Our economy is not served when this devolves to
higher rates or taxpayer ownership, if reliability is to be preserved.
Efficient capital markets should be able to distinguish lawyer-babble from
investments. It's your responsibility to deliver the facts to the public
debate. How about starting with some marketing experts at Harvard or
see where that leads you?
With best regards,
ps: If you want to do another article about amateur radio,I'd suggest you
with astronauts on the International Space Station, or their NASA ground
controllers. They regularly talk with school children around the world via
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