After years of talk and little action, electric companies are one step closer to offering high-speed Internet and other communications services over power lines.
The FCC Thursday approved rules that would allow utilities to offer broadband service over power lines while attempting to safeguard broadcasters and other existing licensed services against harmful interference.
Broadband over the nation's power grid has huge but almost entirely untapped potential as a new competitor to high-speed internet service delivered over telephone, cable and wireless.
Power lines reach virtually every home and community and would bring high-speed service as close as the nearest electrical outlet, even for folks in rural, low income, and other underserved areas.
Power line broadband also will help electric utilities manage the power grids, the FCC said, by allowing remote diagnosis of electrical system failures. "We believe this new technology holds great promise as a low cost broadband competitor," said FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy in a joint statement.
Broadcasters are wary of the new service because the FCC did not forbid utilities from offering the service at frequencies that could interfere with TV channels, particularly digital ones. "If the FCC wants DTV to go forward, it should create additional protection for people trying to get digital TV over the air," said David Donovan, president of digital television trade group MSTV.
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