California Okays Broadband Over Power Lines Test

Calif. agency OKs broadband-over-power-lines test

The California Public Utilities Commission approved a plan on Thursday allowing providers of high-speed Internet services to test the use of electricity lines to deliver online access throughout the state.

CPUC commissioner Rachelle Chong, who drafted the plan, said broadband over power lines, or BPL, could become a new competitor to Internet services delivered via telephone, cable and satellites and help reduce prices for consumers.

BPL uses existing utility lines delivering power to neighborhoods to carry broadband signals into homes.

It has been touted by equipment makers and regulators as a possible competitor to cable and telecommunications services, which handle almost all of the roughly 40 million U.S. residential broadband connections.

BPL technology also could allow utilities to develop so-called smart grid applications to more actively monitor and manage the distribution of electricity, said Chong, a former member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Until recently, U.S. utilities interested in BPL have faced various financial and technical problems, The signals that carry data over electrical lines can cause interference with radio equipment and can travel only a short distance before weakening, requiring repeaters in many areas.

Nevertheless, utilities like TXU Corp., Texas's largest utility, and Cinergy Corp. in Ohio are exploring the service with privately held BPL provider Current Communications Group.

The regulatory commission adopted guidelines for electric utilities and companies that wish to develop and test projects in California.

Among the guidelines, electric utility affiliates and other developers can invest in and operate BPL systems.

Utility affiliates would have to follow CPUC rules for transactions between a utility and a BPL affiliate to protect against cross-subsidies, the commission said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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