EarthLink Invests In Powerline Broadband

Earthlink , one of the largest broadband Internet service providers in the U.S., is investing $500,000 in a broadband Internet technology only recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it was announced Friday.

Officials at Ambient Corp., a Newton, Mass., communications company specializing in broadband over power line (BPL) broadband Internet, announced the ownership investment in its company, as well as the addition of Earthlink to its advisory board, the first ISP to join their ranks.

The announcement is another victory for Ambient, which provides Internet connectivity over a medium that’s faced a lot of criticism the past year over interference concerns. BPL uses radio frequency power to deliver digital information over a utility line, using repeaters at power boxes to strengthen the signal from the carrier to the home.

Because of the ubiquitous nature of power lines, the FCC has warmly embraced the technology as an alternative to existing broadband Internet technologies, and bridging the digital divide throughout the country, mainly in rural locations. Digital subscriber line is limited to areas surrounding telephone companies; cable isn’t carried outside urban areas (for the most part), and satellite Internet connectivity is bogged down with lag issues.

According to Ambient officials, Earthlink and Con Edison have been working side-by-side with them the past two years on a BPL pilot. And even though they provide cable, DSL and satellite Internet connectivity, officials said its part of the company’s strategy to look at next-generation technologies as well.

“We look at it as our role to support companies and encourage development of broadband,” Dave Blumenthal, Earthlink spokesperson, told “We plan to participate in trials of a broad array of alternative broadband technologies.”

On Wednesday, Earthlink launched a BPL pilot program with Progress Energy in North Carolina. The test bed involves 500 homes and costs $19.95 for the first three months and $39.95 afterwards.

For a company the size of Earthlink, a half-million bet on a BPL carrier is a slight risk for the company if the technology doesn’t pan out; on the other hand, it is positioned to reap bigger rewards if BPL is successful. The investment contract includes the option to buy more shares of the company down the road.

It’s uncertain whether BPL will pay off in the long run, despite Earthlink’s increased interest and the well-wishes of the FCC. Amateur radio enthusiasts claim the interference issues caused by BPL more than offset the advantages to the technology.

Under Part 15 of the FCC’s rules governing wireless communications, unlicensed equipment has to abide by emission rules before it’s used in the U.S. Equipment used in fixed wireless Internet connections also fall under the Part 15 rule.

Last April, the FCC released a notice of inquiry (NOI) regarding BPL, taking arguments both for and against the technology from 5,100 individuals and organizations. The agency then released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) Feb. 12, finding that although BPL equipment couldn’t sufficiently address Part 15 emission guidelines, it would approve the use of the equipment in rollouts.

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