I.B.M. and Partner May Offer Broadband From a Wall Plug
By  Ken Belson New York Times
Monday, July 11, 2005

I.B.M. will announce a partnership today with CenterPoint Energy, a utility based in Houston, to develop broadband services to be delivered over electric power lines.

The companies will open a technology center in Houston to test and demonstrate the technology for consumers and other utility providers. CenterPoint Energy will also set up a pilot program in about 220 Houston homes that will run through August.

Because power lines can carry data as well as electricity, utilities and broadband companies are hoping the technology will allow consumers to get high-speed Internet connections simply by plugging a special adapter into a wall outlet. Some utilities, including Con Edison in New York, have started offering such services on a limited basis.

By relying on the adapters - which currently cost about $200 but are expected to become less expensive - utilities do not need to send a worker to install equipment. Consumers can use the adapters in any room with an outlet.

The Federal Communications Commission is backing the development of this technology in hopes of creating a counterweight to the cable and phone industries, which provide the bulk of the 36 million broadband lines now being used in American homes.

The service could also be cheaply deployed in rural areas where phone and cable companies have not yet expanded.

CenterPoint says it will be one of the first utilities to test new technology, including faster chips that roughly triple connection speeds. With these chips, consumers will be able to receive Internet connections at about 7 megabits a second, equal to some of the fastest speeds available from cable companies.

Utilities are interested in offering broadband services, not only because it could help them generate new revenue but also because it would allow them to read meters remotely, pinpoint problems throughout their network and monitor power surges as they take place rather than long afterward.

Utilities say they could save millions of dollars if they could avoid long power failures and if they did not have to send workers to read meters.

"People don't understand how little the utilities can see of their network," said Ray Blair, vice president for broadband over power lines at I.B.M., which is advising CenterPoint on the project. "If your power goes out, they don't know about it until you call. This will tell them exactly where to go and what to fix."