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BPL not up to speed

PRINCETON — Though technology for Princeton’s broadband over power lines (BPL) service hasn’t progressed much since it was installed about 10 years ago, it’s still been a good investment for the city, according to Princeton Superintendent of Electric Jason Bird.

At this week’s meeting of the Princeton City Council, Commissioner Ray Mabry, who went on the council in May, asked for an update on the city’s BPL program, especially since learning the city is not taking any new BPL customers.

In response, Commissioner Joel Quiram, who is commissioner for the Public Property Utilities Department, said the BPL technology is no better today than what it was 10 years ago. BPL service is slow, and most of the city’s 220 customers use it primarily for emails, he said.

Princeton partners with Connecting Point of Peru in the BPL service with Princeton providing the labor for installation/maintenance and Connecting Point providing the actual service to customers. The city’s more advanced fiber optic network is used primarily by business and industrial customers, not many residents, Quiram said.

In expanding upon Quiram’s remarks, Bird said the city’s revenue for BPL is about $13,000 to $14,000 in a typical year. The city collects about $27,000 to $29,000 a year in fees for use of its fiber optic network. Last year, the city raised about $60,500 in revenue from its BPL/fiber optic networks, with a combined expense of about $17,000, Bird said.

The city is not the service provider, but rather the highway provider of the fiber which is owned by the city. Also, a lot of that fiber is also used internally by the city utilities and city departments.

Looking back on the BPL/fiber optic undertaking, Bird said the city got into BPL/fiber optic business in 2005 because there were concerned customers in town who did not have broadband service and high speed Internet. Things have turned out well over the years, he said.

“I think it’s been a good investment by the city,” Bird said. “BPL has outgrown its use, and we know that and we are working on it. We made the decision that it (BPL) just wasn’t the service the customers were expecting, and there is no sense in going forward and providing it for anyone else. We still have 221 customers who want that service.”

When people ask if BPL can be enhanced, he tells them what they have now is what they will have in the future, Bird said. Technology has progressed greatly during the last 10 years, but BPL has not, he added.

Looking to the future, Bird said the city is looking at grants to help with moving forward with the city’s fiber optic network and also looking at public/private partnerships which would be good for the city and its residences.

At the time of installation, Princeton was the second municipal utility in the United States, behind Manassas, Va., to offer high speed Internet as a commercial service through BPL.

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