DirecTV Powers Up With BPL

DirecTV put a charge in its broadband services
Wednesday, announcing a wholesale distribution deal with broadband over
powerline (BPL) provider Current Group. The deal includes both
high-speed Internet and VoIP services.

DirecTV customers will have access to Current’s BPL network, which
allows consumers to access the Internet by plugging a modem into an
electrical outlet. Current’s electrical grid overlay also improves
energy efficiency and reliability.

The initial phase of the deal covers the Dallas-Fort Worth area of
approximately 1.8 million homes and allows DirecTV to offer bundled
services of television, voice and Internet to compete with telephone and
cable company packages. DirecTV hopes to offer the service by late this
year or early in 2008.

“Our agreement with Current gives our customers another high-quality,
easy-to-use option to pair broadband services with DirecTV’s video
offerings,” Evan Grayer, vice president of Broadband for DirecTV. “By
choosing this bundled option, DirecTV customers will now be able to
enjoy fast, reliable and secure high-speed Internet service anywhere
they have a power outlet in their homes.”

Two years ago, Google , Goldman Sachs and the Hearst Corp. invested a combined $100 million in the Germantown, Md.-based Current Group.

“Consumers in Dallas will have a compelling new choice for their
broadband service and, at the same time, feel good about the fact that
the same Internet network is helping to improve the efficiency and
reliability of the electric grid while reducing its environmental
impact,” Current CEO Tom Casey said in a statement.

BPL holds tantalizing prospects for spreading broadband since the wires
that carry electricity also possess the capacity to serve as a conduit
for data signals. By bundling radio-frequency energy on the same line
with the electric current, data can be transmitted without the need for
a separate line.

Some technologists and industry analysts, however, remain concerned with
the potential interference to radio transmissions from BPL systems. BPL
transmissions are not shielded to prevent radio interference in the same
manner as telephone and cable lines. Amateur radio operators, in
particular, have opposed BPL.

However, in 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved
clearing the way for commercial deployment of BPL. The decision
classified BPL as an unlicensed service, with the rules primarily aimed
at limiting interference with licensed radio services.

The FCC established “exclusion zones” in areas near sensitive
operations, such as Coast Guard stations, where BPL must avoid operating
on some frequencies. Amateur radio operators received no exclusions, but
the rules require the establishment of a publicly available BPL
notification database to help identify and resolve harmful interference

The technology is already being used in Manassas, Va., and Cincinnati,
Ohio, and more than 40 trials are under way throughout the country.

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