As several companies conduct experiments using electrical wiring in the home to provide broadband Internet access, the phrase “plugged in” may take on a whole new meaning.
Currently, most power lines are “dumb” conduits, used to transfer electric current. But they’re actually capable of carrying data as well. Therein lies the excitement behind the emerging field of broadband over power lines, or BPL.
Last week, Houston, Texas-based energy company CenterPoint and IBM announced a trial run that will provide BPL service to 220 homes in the greater Houston area. And two weeks ago Current Communications Group, a Maryland-based company offering broadband over power lines, announced that it had secured $100 million in venture financing from Google, Hearst, and Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, other BPL trials are currently underway in Manhattan, Cincinnati, and parts of North Carolina.
So, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that cable companies don’t have to share their lines with other ISPs (the “BrandX Decision”), consumers around the country may soon have a third choice (in addition to cable and DSL) for getting broadband.
BPL technology has been in the works for more than five years, but several factors have come together recently to speed up its commercial viability. In October 2004, the Federal Communications Commission announced its support for standards for the technology – an important step. Also, several states, including Texas and California, are developing their own legislation to iron out remaining regulatory issues among utilities and BPL.
Meanwhile, on the technology side, increases in chip speed have combined with cost reductions for key components, such as adapters and chips, to pave the way for more economical deployments of the technology.
“We’ve been chomping at the bit with BPL,” says Ray Blair, vice president of IBM’s BPL initiatives. “Now we can run.”
Others are also enthusiastic. “We’re finally seeing the pieces are all in place,” says Kevin Brand, vice president of product management for Earthlink. The Internet provider currently has several small BPL trials around the country and Brand says subscriber feedback so far has been “very positive.”