California to Test Powerline Broadband

The California Public Utilities Commission has given its approval to a plan which would let Internet providers test the delivery of high-speed Internet access via electric utility lines.

Broadband over Power Line, or BPL, has been promoted as a possible competitor to cable companies and telephone operators in providing high-speed Internet access to homes and businesses. Currently, cable and telephone monopolies carry nearly all residential high speed Internet traffic in the United States. BPL is not without its technical hurdles, since data transmission over power lines actually doesn’t travel very far (requiring utilities to install new equipment and repeaters to propagate the signals), and in some cases data transmission can interfere with the use of everyday radio equipment. However, power companies see more than the possibility of charging for data services in addition to electricity: data technology in the power system would enable utilities to deploy so-called “smart grid” systems to better monitor and manage power utilization, leading to more efficient use of electricity.

Guidelines adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission include enabling third parties and electric utilities to invest in and operate BPL systems, setting up transaction rules to protect against cross-subsidies and other anti-competitive issues, exempting certain BPL transactions from regulatory review, and requiring fees for installing BPL equipment on public utility poles and other infrastructure.