Moves to plug homes and offices into the Internet via existing power outlets have been given a nudge forward by the Federal Communications Commission.
The agency said late Wednesday that it plans to file a notice of inquiry in the Federal Register into the viability of using power lines to provide broadband and Internet services. While it is unclear whether broadband over power line (BPL) will be less expensive to set up than cable or digital subscriber lines (DSL), the inquiry offers the promise of a third way to deliver broadband into the home.
The inquiry will be into the use of two types of power-line technology. The first is Access BPL, under which 1,000-volt to 40,000-volt power lines would bring broadband service into households and businesses. The other is for in-house BPL, which uses existing electrical wiring in a home or building to create a network of computers, printers and other devices.
Broadband has been slow to arrive in more rural communities and those few places it has made it to don’t have enough of a subscriber base to support more than one provider given the costs associated with maintaining such a system. In Otisville, Michigan where my parents live, for example, the only broadband providers available are A) Charter Pipeline and they charge as much for their low-speed broadband as Wide Open West charges me for my high-speed connection and B) DirectPC through digital satellite and that would require an additional $600 or so in equipment to use. DSL isn’t available due to distances from their central office.
The two most likely cost-effective alternatives to make in-roads into the rural markets would be either Wi-Fi (possibly through use of unlicensed segments of the TV spectrum) and Broadband over Power Line (BPL). You can already buy home network kits that work through your home’s power lines as an alternative to running ethernet cable through the walls and the technology has gotten much better over the years since it was first introduced. So who knows? Perhaps in another few years you’ll have a third option for high-speed Internet.