Will Broadband Over Power Lines be a 60-Watt Weakling?

Fewer than 30 million American households have broadband, and the Federal Communications Commission would like that number to be higher. Studies say $67 billion could be added to the gross domestic product and 665,000 jobs could be created if consumers subscribed en masse to broadband. That’s why in October, the FCC set out new technical requirements meant to deal with interference concerns surrounding broadband over power line (BPL)—a technology that would allow consumers to obtain high-speed Internet services through that most ubiquitous of networks: the electric grid.

But other than the convenience of being able to plug a modem directly into an electric outlet, BPL has virtually no advantages over its broadband brethren. Brett Kilbourne, a director of the United Power Line Council, an industry group, doesn’t even attempt to argue that BPL is inherently faster, cheaper or more reliable than DSL and cable modems.

BPL has bigger competitive problems on the horizon. A key selling point of BPL is getting broadband access to remote areas. But new wireless broadband technologies with more momentum than BPL, such as WiMAX, will soon provide an affordable way to bring broadband to rural consumers, says David Willis, a vice president at META Group Inc.

Even the BPL regulatory issues have yet to be solved. Writes FCC Commissioner Michael Copps: “Is it right to allow electricity ratepayers to pay higher bills every month to subsidize an electric company’s foray into broadband?”

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