Broadband Faces Power Shift, Gives New Meaning To Being 'Wired'

Providing broadband service through electric power lines is a potentially competitive alternative to high-speed Internet connections via cable and DSL, but infrastructure and regulatory issues loom, said participants in a conference call yesterday held by the New Millennium Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based lobby and policy group.

If broadband-over-power-line service were offered for $30 per month, estimated Barry Goodstadt, vice president and senior consultant for Harris Interactive, it would reach 13 million households and present a $4.5 million revenue opportunity over the next three to five years. But Robert Olsen, professor of electrical engineering at Washington State University, cautioned that broadband-over-power lines potentially interferes with certain radio signals--a problem that engineers will have to fix before the nation sees extensive power line implementation. "The FCC requires that broadband-over-power line operators not provide harmful interference to users, but a standard has not yet been established for harmful interference," Olsen warned.

Harris Interactive's Goodstadt replied that interference concerns would be minimized in newer power grids, which tend to bury lines underground rather than locate them overhead. Allen Hepner, executive director of the New Millennium Research Council, added that it's unclear how the government would regulate broadband-over-power service.

Joseph Fergus, president and chief executive of Communications Technologies Inc.--currently deploying the technology in Manassas, Va.--said he had a waiting list of 1,200 customers.
Because of the technology's relatively cheap cost of $28.95 per month, rival broadband providers in and around Manassas were forced to reduce their prices, Fergus claimed. He declined to go into specifics.