March 9, 2006 By Chad Vander Veen
When future scholars look back on the early years of the Information Age, they'll highly regard the small city of Manassas, Va. Modern-day residents can relish the fact that their city will occupy a significant spot in historic texts as the first U.S. municipality to offer broadband over power lines (BPL).
BPL technology represents an entirely new level of accessibility for citizens at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum -- and Manassas Mayor Douglas Waldron is overseeing his city's pioneering venture into IT lore.
In October 2005, Waldron and city utilities director John Hewa announced the nation's first BPL system was up and running. According to Waldron, a combination of factors took BPL off the drawing board and onto the power lines.
"Manassas operates its own electric, water and sewer systems," Waldron said. "We're able to closely manage our own utilities. The utility commission and the city council a few years back entertained some offers from private vendors. We were the right size, plus our location in northern Virginia gave some access to what was going on in Washington."
A deal was struck between the city and Chantilly, Va.-based Communication Technologies to develop and deploy a BPL system -- the biggest benefit of which is providing access to the substantial number of "last mile" residents in the city of 40,000. As a rural community, many private Internet service providers can't or won't reach more isolated homes.
"The reason why it's so unique is it solves a lot of the 'last mile' problem," said Waldron. "That's why it's of interest to the federal government, for rural locations throughout our country. How do you supply the last mile to a farmhouse in Kansas? But everybody has electric service. They have plugs. So it solves the last mile problem relatively cheaply."
More important than being a landmark achievement is the fact that Manassas residents are getting connected.
"The citizens I've talked to are very enthusiastic," Waldron said. "It's growing every month."
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