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Powering Up BPL

Broadband over power lines (BPL) may only be in a few thousand homes as a commercial concern, but there are over 50 tests and a big deployment of 2 million people planned for next year in Texas.

That's according to Brett Kilbourne, associate counsel for the United Telecom Council, which represents utility companies looking to get into the broadband-supply business in competition to cable and telcos.

In an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators series, scheduled for airing over the weekend, he pointed out that the FCC had given utilities a "tremendous green light" for the service, and that investors like Google and Goldman Sachs were putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the technology, which delivers broadband to electrical outlets at a speed and price he said would be competitive.

Kilbourne said that the service would be ideal for rural areas currently not reached by cable, one of the reasons the FCC is so high on BPL. Although he conceded that economics would drive the deployment of the service, he said that the use of BPL for "smartgrid" monitoring of power lines would mitigate against cherry because becuase the technology would be employed in many system wide systemwide to better monitor loads and more efficiently--and cost-effectively--provide power.

While the federal government may have gone to bat for BPL--the fCC recently voted to approve rules for BPL rollout--Kilbourne says the next battle is at the state regulatory level. He pointed to Texas and California as states who had revised their regs to make it easier to deploy BPL, suggesting it was no coincidence that there were big rollouts planned in both states.

Asked why as a captive ratepayer, utility customers would want the companies to get into the broadband business rather than upgrade the grid, he said BPL would improve the grid by allowing companies to more accurately and nimbly monitor usage. He also said that the utility revenues would not be used to cross-subsidize the commercial venture in broadband, which he said most power companies would do through a third party.

Kilbourne said he though that telcos and cable had not been fighting the FCC's promotion of BPL because they figured the addition of a little competition could be a good thing for their own regulatory fortunes: Telcos like us to a certain extent. They want to see a little more competition if it will justify the FCC further deregulating their services."

Similarly, the cable industry has not opposed loosening franchise regs for telcos so long as they are extended similar benefits.