RealTime IT News

Internet Access Via Power Lines

The Power Line Communications Association (PLCA) was formed in mid-2001 to help utilities and ISPs explore the potential of delivering Internet service over the electric lines that are already in homes throughout the U.S.

Currently, the association's membership consists of 12 utility companies plus some vendors, such as main.Net Communications. Craig Shaar, PLCA director of strategic communications, said that although the association does not yet have rural cooperatives or municipalities involved, they are interested in the potential of the technology because cable companies are not serving rural populations and DSL's limited range is an especially acute problem in rural areas. "Utilities can serve the small towns of America," he says.

The association expects to grow as powerline technology advances, but it is currently operating on a shoestring. The association's three lawyers work for the law firm Troutman Sanders, a global practice that has many utility clients. PLCA staff members are also active in the established American Mobile Telecommunications Association.

The association's webhost, pmg, has a prominent link on the site. Other prominent links are the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which is a vendor's group; Platts, a trade publisher for the energy industry; and Powerline World, an industry research group.

Shaar says the technology could start to succeed, with real deployments, as early as this year. "It has to be priced at a level similar to cable and DSL, between $30 per month and $60 per month, and it has to meet FCC emissions standards," he notes. "Some of our members are already rolling out trials of PLC technology at speeds between 0.5 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps."

He adds, "the interest in PLC is reflected in the growth of our conference, which is held once per year in Washington, D.C. At our last conference, held recently, we had 110 people at the meeting. Our conferences are attended by representatives from utilities, vendors, consultants, attorneys, and others."

The association is funded by membership dues and will be lobbying to make it easier for utilities and others to deploy PLC Internet service to communities that would otherwise have no broadband at all.

Alex Goldman is associate editor of sister site, ISP-Planet.