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John Carlsen's Address to the Austin City Council Telecommunications Commission

February 8, 2006

Good evening. My name is John Carlsen, an Austin Energy customer in an outlying area yet to be incorporated by the City of Austin. Tonight, I'd like to show my support for high-speed data telecommunication via power lines, commonly referred to as "broadband over power lines" or "BPL".

As a computer technology professional who was attracted to Austin from Silicon Valley, I see the development of Austin's telecommunication infrastructure as absolutely critical to Austin's continued growth and survival.

In the December 19 edition of the Wall Street Journal, I read about a promising BPL pilot program in the Dallas area between TXU Corp. and the Current Communications Group LLC, which is now expanding its availability to more than two million of TXU's power customers.

I like BPL technology for four reasons:

  • First and foremost, BPL would allow the Austin Energy utility to receive data feedback from usage meters and other remote monitoring equipment, reducing its meter reader expenses while reducing inconvenience to customers (especially for those with pets near meters). This data feedback may also be used to detect and diagnose problems including outages and voltage variance, improving the quality of Austin's electric service.
  • Second, BPL would enable remote instrumentation (a.k.a. telemetry) and control of other city-operated systems, such as roadway traffic signals. Because BPL uses existing power lines, BPL allows this communication at the lowest possible additional cost while maintaining system security via physical separation, as most of these systems are generally powered using separate circuits anyway.
  • Third, the ubiquity of power lines would allow Austin to "bridge the digital divide" by offering data connectivity to poorer fringe neighborhoods, such as mine, where SBC doesn't offer DSL and doesn't even consistently meet the 12Kbps federal mandate for data quality on dial-up lines. SBC ignores my neighborhood, so Internet access costs about $80 per month (for cable TV broadband service), about five times the cost of DSL in more affluent neighborhoods.
  • Finally, Austin Energy has the option to add the needed BPL infrastructure at no risk of cost to its power customers, thanks to a unique Texas law (introduced last year) that allows utility holding companies to set up separate investor-funded concerns. Alternately, the BPL system could be offered as a low-cost not-for-profit resource or even as a revenue source for social improvement programs such as local libraries and schools.

I'd be happy to answer any questions and to offer assistance in evaluating and implementing a BPL system here in Austin. Thank you for your time.