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San Diego Utility Gears for BPL Trial

San Diego's power provider appears poised to become California's first utility to state a broadband-over-power lines (BPL) trial.

The utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, has announced it will begin a test of the technology Sept. 1 and may continue the test for up to a year. SDG&E, a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy, serves 3.3 million customers in greater San Diego through 1.3 million electric meters and 800,000 gas meters.

The parent company's interest in BPL was signaled earlier this year, when it became one of the parties participating in committee sessions in Sacramento on the bill proposed by Verizon Communications Inc. to revise cable franchising in the state.

The San Diego pilot will test a variety of BPL equipment in different geographic and demographic areas, according to SDG&E. The test will be limited to locations within the city's Kearny Mesa neighborhood.

Initially, SDG&E will concentrate on testing utility applications, such as remote control of its equipment, instant-status reports on conditions within the grid, and compatibility with Advanced Metering Infrastructure, a technology capable of automating the measurement of consumer usage.

But if BPL is compatible with the local electric grid, it has the potential to enable broadband Internet service to every electrical outlet, the utility noted. That could put the company into competition against the region's cable incumbents, Cox Cable and Time Warner Cable.

Currently, there is one citywide commercial deployment of BPL, in Manassas, Va. But tests of the technology are underway in as many as 18 states, including a partnership in Cincinnati between utility Cinergy Corp. and BPL provider Current Communications Group, according to a May report by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The state's PUC supports changes in the law that would promote BPL as a viable alternative to digital subscriber line or cable-modem service. A third “fat pipe” into the home could lower prices and prod deployment into unserved or underserved rural communities in the state, commissioners have aid.

In a speech earlier this year to the Federal Communications Bar Association, Commissioner Susan Kennedy said she has personally urged other power companies in the state, including PG&E and Southern California Edison, to look into BPL, adding that the utilities appear interested, but fear that without changes to current law, the new products would be regulated.