WASHINGTON, November 11, 2009 - The creation of a “smart grid” for electricity conservation may lead to parallel telecommunications networks by both utilities and traditional telephone communications providers; whether or not this was a positive development was debated at the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday.
The “smart grid” enables communications about electric transmissions over that electric infrastructure. Broadband, or high-speed internet access, has traditionally occurred over telephone, cable or wireless networks.
Broadband over power lines (BPL) is a form of internet access over the electric infrastructure.
All of these technologies are competing for consumers and business customers.
Whether utilities will continue to use electric lines for transmitting BPL, or shift to fiber-optics or wireless infrastructures – whether self-built or managed by traditional carriers like Verizon Communications and AT&T – prompted debate at the November breakfast club, on “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: The Environment.”
Kevin Moss, head of corporate social responsibility at BT Americas, said that telecommunications hoped to provide communicative capabilities as utilities need more of it to satisfy “smart grid” requirements.
But Cynthia Brumfeld, director of research for the Utilities Telecom Council, said that utility companies require that communications systems exhibit a high degree of reliability. They may not be allowed to fail even during “acts of God,” such as hurricanes. Verizon and AT&T have been unable to make such assurances, she said.
Another major facet of breakfast club discussion concerned the benefits of broadband-enabled teleworking upon the environment.
Jennifer Thomas Alcott, program manager at Telework!VA in the Commonwealth of Virginia, said that teleworking does not necessarily mean that a person will work on full-time basis at home. Most of the regular telecommuters work from their homes one or two days in a week.
“Up to 98 per cent of employees’ carbon footprint usually comes from commuting to and from work,” said Alcott. Further, besides saving energy on commuting costs, individual workers consume less energy from home, she said.
“Teleworking reduces by up to half the amount of energy used when working from the office. This can provide a survival strategy for companies.”
Unfortunately, many managers have not been keen to implement telecommuting for fear that they will lose their jobs, said Stephen Ruth, professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.
“Many managers do not like the idea of telecommuting, despite the fact that it cuts on tons of carbon emissions,” said Ruth.
Other than the fear of change to traditional management structures, the spotty coverage of broadband availability also makes telecommuting more of a struggle in certain portions of the nation – and even in populous suburban suburbs like Northern Virginia, said Alcott.
Ruth also offered his observations on obstacles to distance learning. He said that university professor are not enthusiastic about setting up systems to facilitate remote education.
Alcott and Ruth both urged the federal government to enforce existing laws promoting teleworking, so as to bring it up to par with the private sector.
Editor's Note: Video of the November Broadband Breakfast Club will be available shortly. To register for the December 8, 2009, Broadband Breakfast Club, "Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: Bridging the Digital Divide," go to http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.