"Powering" the Wi-Fi at Capitol Hill

By Ed Sutherland

July 28, 2004

When a historic building near the U.S. Capitol needed Internet access, it took more than wireless to supply it -- they needed to piggy-back on the power line infrastructure.

In a bit of technological time travel, two vendors are using Wi-Fi and power line devices to bring broadband Internet access to the oldest parts of the nation's capitol.

DC Access, a wireless ISP based in Washington, DC, is teaming up with power line communications vendor Telkonet to wirelessly transmit a broadband connection, then distribute it to tenants of the 100-year-old Congressional House via the electrical system.

Only two blocks from the U.S. Capitol building, the six-story Congressional House is home to dozens of lobbyists, non-profit agencies and other politicos.

In their announcement, the two companies say they believe their Wi-Fi and power line combo "enables property owners to easily and affordably deliver high-speed Internet access to their residents and tenants." DC Access calls broadband Internet service "a must-have amenity."

The system works by beaming a broadband connection to Wi-Fi antennas located atop buildings. Then Wi-Fi transmitters send data directly to customers' offices and apartments.

The power line solution came up because being located in a century-old district poses some problems.

Having an ancient public phone system, DSL connections are scarce in the area, and those that exist experience frequent outages. Although there is some cable TV service, cable modems are also rare, says Matt Wade, owner of DC Access.

With the two most-common 'last-mile' options for broadband connections ruled out, "wireless Internet service is a good alternative," according to the WISP. However, the company knew that even if Wi-Fi could get into a historic building, distributing it to all the customers there poses additional problems.

"Even with Wi-Fi solutions, cable runs are still required to provide power and an Internet signal to each access point," says Wade.

This is where Germantown, Md.-based Telekonet's PlugPlus system comes in.

"With PlugPlus, we can offer Internet access throughout a building using the existing electrical systems," says Wade.

"In historical buildings on the Hill, new wiring is not always possible," he says.

Wade says a wireless-only Internet delivery system "was not a viable option because of security concerns." "Business customers are more comfortable with a wired solution," says Wade.

The advantages for both tenants and building owners are numerous.

Since it is essentially a plug-and-play system, "tenant installation is extremely easy," says Wade. The DC Access founder says installation time is "a matter of minutes."

For building owners and managers, "an Internet-ready building attracts new tenants and in some cases even generates additional revenue," says Wade.

Prices for the service range from $29 to $119 per month, with upload and download speeds going from 200kbps to 1Mbps, according to Wade.

Wade says, "We plan to use this system in other larger, historic buildings in the Washington DC metro area," when discussing future commercial building rollouts.

This isn't the first time DC Access has provided service in the capitol region. In April, it was chosen by the Open Park Project to unwire the National Mall. Laptop and PDA users can now wirelessly connect to the Internet for free while in the area around the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol Visitors' Center.

Tuesday, Telekonet's PlugPlus system was chosen by the Interstate Hotel and Resorts company to provide broadband Internet service to Holiday Inn Select hotels in Claymont, Del. and the Radisson Hotel in Annapolis, Md. "We believe most, if not all, multiple tenant buildings can benefit from wireless, powerline, or a mixed solution," says Wade.



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