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California PUC Plugs Into BPL Development

The California Public Utilities Commission is looking to add some more spark to the competitive broadband market, approving a plan to start testing of high-speed-Internet services delivered over power lines.

Called broadband over power line (BPL), the technology allows a channel of data to flow alongside the electrical feed into homes and businesses.

BPL has been under development for some time, but it has been slowed by interference issues -- placing a data stream close to an electrical circuit is tricky, and there have also been problems with BPL systems interfering with emergency radio communications.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance -- an industry group that includes Comcast Corp., Motorola Inc., Sony Corp. and EarthLink Inc. -- has been working to develop a standard for BPL data delivery. Just last week, it put out a call for submissions to develop the specification.

Under guidelines the California PUC adopted Thursday, utilities and third-party technology developers will be allowed to invest and operate BPL systems. The utilities must follow affiliate transaction rules when making deals with technology outfits to use BPL systems, and they have to ensure that the electric distribution system is not jeopardized in the process.

While companies installing BPL systems will have to pay pole-attachment fees, certain BPL-related transactions will be exempt from regulatory review.

Given the fact every residential home is connected to the electric power grid, the California PUC hopes that it may offer a wider reach than its established broadband competitors.

"BPL has the potential to bring broadband Internet services to communities that do not have broadband service available today from the telephone companies or cable companies. In fact, in other communities that already have DSL [digital-subscriber-line] and cable-modem service, BPL can provide a third broadband ‘pipe’ to customers, thereby increasing competition and consumer choice," PUC president Michael R. Peevey said.

"BPL can also provide benefits to electric customers by enabling valuable ‘smart grid’ applications that could improve electric-system reliability and support money-saving energy-management technologies,” he added.