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Calif. regulators OK broadband over power line test

Power companies, broadband providers will be able to test new BPL tech in an effort to offer consumers more access options.

Broadband service providers got the green light from the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday to test broadband over power line (BPL) technology, paving the way for a third option in the high-speed Internet market.

The technology known as BPL uses the existing utility lines that deliver power to carry broadband signals into the home. For years, people have hoped BPL would allow electric companies to become a viable third alternative to the cable and telephone companies providing high-speed access to the Internet.

But technical limitations and a bad habit of interfering with local emergency radios have made BPL a tantalizing near-miss for the tech industry.

Nevertheless, several utilities across the country are looking into deploying BPL, and several big technology companies, such as Google, IBM and EarthLink, are investing in the technology.

Last year, Google invested in a service provider called Current Communications Group, which is testing broadband over power line networks in Ohio and Texas. And IBM is partnering with Houston-based power utility CenterPoint Energy to build a BPL network.

EarthLink has tested broadband over power line services with several power companies including Duke Power in Charlotte, N.C., Progress Energy in Raleigh, N.C, and Consolidated Edison in New York.

BPL also can be used to monitor the health of the power grid. If an outage occurs, the network, which is based on Internet Protocol, can immediately send alerts. Eventually, a utility could even use the network to remotely read meters and switch power on or off.