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The State Of Alternative Broadband Internet In Nelson County, Virginia : 3.11.09

[ 3 ] March 11, 2009 |
©2009 NCL Magazine : A BPL repeater installed at NCL on Tuesday of this week.

©2009 NCL Magazine : A BPL repeater installed at NCL on Tuesday of this week.

Nelson County, Virginia
As we have been reporting for the better part of a year, IBEC (International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc) has been on an aggressive plan to expand it’s BPL (broadband over powerline) service in Nelson County, Virginia. Some limited areas in Southern Nelson County already have the service installed some years ago. Most recently, installation of the backbone and other infrastructure has been underway in the northern sections of Nelson County near Faber/Woods Mill and in the Rockfish Valley roughly north of the Martins Store Substation. After more than 6 months of delays, IBEC began turning on some customers within the past 30 days.

Ther standard BPL modem installed in the office at Nelson County Life Magazine.

Ther standard BPL modem installed in the office at Nelson County Life Magazine.

In order for NCL to properly assess the quality, speed, and service of BPL, we felt the only way to do justice on the reporting was by having it installed here at our office. After a few delays, that installation/activation took place on Tuesday March 10, 2009. After confusion as to which unit was hanging on our pole outside, and after a lengthy search for an electrical outlet that would actually provide adequate signal for BPL service, it was almost up and running. This is not “plug and play” in many cases. An additional visit was required by an IBEC tech later in the day Tuesday to put in a repeater that would allow the BPL modem to be placed in our computer room which is about 30-40 feet on the other side of the house from where the outlet is. Once that was done, BPL service was established and it worked for an hour or two. We want to state for the record, the folks at IBEC have been extremely nice during this process. They have been very courteous and have tried to be as helpful as possible.

Below you will see the speed comparisons of the three most recent methods we tested here in the office. All were done using www.speedtest.net out of the Greensboro, N.C. site:

BPL: Download: 332kbps Upload: 163kbps
nTelos Aircard 3G: ” 951kbps ” 214kbps
Hughesnet Sat: ” 1.009mbps ” 264kbps

As you can tell, ironically, the best performer was Hughesnet satellite internet.

The Hughesnet 7000 series sat modem used in the testing.

The Hughesnet 7000 series sat modem used in the testing.

The second best was nTelos’s Noveltel Mobile Broadband Aircard. It should be noted that our testing was done in a relative fringe area on the nTelos Aircard. Our signal was most likely coming from the Devil’s Knob area up on the mountain. The new Route151 site near The Rockfish Presbyterian Church that will be put in service in the next couple of months should improve signal strength and speeds once activated. But even without the new site, speeds are respectable. They continue to offer extremely competitive pricing above and beyond the current web published prices. Offering mobile broadband aircards for .99 cents and unlimited monthly mobile broadband internet for $39.99 per month by directly calling John Apesa with nTelos at 540.457.2000 or email at apesajo@ntelos.com

The Novatel Series USB aircard from nTelos used for testing their mobile broadband service in Nelson County, Virginia.

The Novatel Series USB aircard from nTelos used for testing their mobile broadband service in Nelson County, Virginia.

The advantages of both BPL and nTelos are the fact they have no thresholds or limitations on their downloads or uploads in a 24 hour period like both Hughesnet and Wildblue Sat providers do. If you exceed a certain amount of data in a 24 hour period, (FAP) both sat providers will throttle you back to speeds comparable to dialup. Hughes penalizes you for 24 hours, Wildblue for 30 days! Neither are good options for anyone needing large download or upload capability. Or, if you use lots of bandwidth with gaming, videos, etc. Both providers are pretty expensive and if you need lots of bandwidth, they are very expensive.

After roughly an hour of using BPL service Tuesday afternoon, it abruptly stopped working shortly after we had just changed all of our email settings on all of the computers to enable us to send out email. If you have your own mail servers/domain, etc, you have to change to IBEC’s smtp to send out mail, fairly standard at times when you are on certain providers’ connections, but the other two we tested don’t require that and will allow you to send via your own smtp, if preferred.

After another call to IBEC Tuesday afternoon explaining that our service had stopped working, we held the line for approximately 7-10 minutes while the representative pulled up our account. When she returned she asked that we unplug our BPL modem, unplug it from our router, then plug it all back up and wait about 10 more minutes as it would take roughly that long for the modem/service to reinitialize. We did all of that, waited, and the service never came back up as of late Tuesday evening. After spending almost 2 hours of our business day in the office troubleshooting BPL, we didn’t have the time left to pursue it anymore at that point. We reconnected the sat modem and continued working normally. We will try again later today as time allows to get the connection back online.

The bottom line. If you have no other options outside of DSL, cable modem, or 3G aircard EVDO services, BPL does make sense. Some customers have commented here they are elated to have BPL because they have been on dialup for years. It’s like breaking into a new world with the ability to watch videos, load heavy graphic and picture, audio and video sites such as the one you are reading now.

A broadband study that’s been underway by Nelson County will soon reveal more possibilities for broadband here.

In spite of the hurdles (Uhmmm, Verizon wireline installation) IBEC has been able to energize their system here and continue to work daily. There are many bugs to work out, and as one recent commenter said it won’t happen overnight. But it does offer promise for some folks living in Nelson that have no other options.

More updates to come next week after we meet personally with one of the owners of IBEC.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Yvette says:

    Just reconnected to BPL and they are back up. According to a Speedtest.net using the recommended server in Atlanta, we’re getting 348 down and 53 up (down is a bit faster than yesterday but up is significantly slower). So, I have unplugged it and have reconnected to HughesNet. I’ve got ads to email!

  2. Chuck Strauss says:

    Tommy & Yvette: Thanks for the very well balanced report on IBEC/BPL. I am not completely happy with the air card yet, but it is ever so much better than dial up — chances are it will get even better. The difficulties you experienced sound typical of start up problems, so hopefully those neighbors who held out for BPL will be rewarded. But I am glad to be spared that difficulty!

    It will be very interesting to find out what the Nelson County broadband study will reveal — I think there is to be a report soon.

  3. Nancy Bishop says:

    Just wondering if and when this service will be available up at Montebello? Or in the area of Montebello? Has the groundwork been laid for this up here? We HATE dialup!!!
    Thanks!

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