High-speed Internet access may one day come from your electric company, thanks to broadband-over-power-line technology. BPL got off the ground recently when Current Communications and Ohio-based utility Cinergy partnered to begin offering the service.
Current Broadband is available only in the Cincinnati area. But the company says that roughly 1.5 million Cinergy customers in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky can later choose among three options: a 1-megabit-per-second connection for $30 per month, 2 mbps for $35, and 3 mbps for $40. Cable and DSL services cost $30 to $50 for speeds usually well below 1.5 mbps.
I tried out BPL at a house in Maryland where Current piloted the service. Once a power company installs BPL equipment on electrical boxes or poles, customers simply plug their power-line modem into any electrical outlet (Current provides the first modem for free). The modem connects to your PC via USB, ethernet, or sometimes Wi-Fi. In the controlled environment of the pilot site, the BPL connection was fast, but real-world performance may vary.
Current's BPL service includes five e-mail addresses, 15MB of e-mail storage, and a personal Web site. It offers the same high-speed connection both up- and downstream. Cable and DSL services typically limit upload speeds to a fraction of download speed.
BPL service makes sense for people who don't already have broadband or who want two-way speeds and slightly lower prices. But it may take years for BPL to reach most people--if it ever reaches them at all.
Another hurdle: BPL may interfere with radio signals. The Federal Communications Commission is considering rules to forestall such problems, but those rules won't be finalized for months.