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IBM has announced it has begun to establish a new network that will bring broadband Internet service to nearly 200,000 rural customers served by 7 rural electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia. IBM is promoting a technology that allows broadband to be moved over electric power lines. The company says the technology will allow customers to buy (or rent) a modem that plugs into existing electrical outlets. You can see if your coop is in on the IBM experiment here

“Technology to send broadband over power lines has been around for several years, but it typically hasn’t been able to offer enough capacity at a low enough price to beat service from cable and phone companies,” Saul Hansell reports in the New York Times. “But with government subsidies, the approach is starting to be deployed in areas that don’t have access to other forms of broadband.” In fact, this effort has been subsidized by low-interest loans from the Rural Development Program at USDA, which will administer a good portion of the broadband money in the stimulus bill.

The system is cost effective with as few as five people living along each mile of electric line. The system is fairly slow and expensive, $30 a month for 256 kilobits per second; $50 a month for 1 megabit per second. The Midwest Energy Cooperative in Michigan did a survey of its customers for the service. Within a week, 4,000 homes were on the waiting list.

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