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3/5/2004
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The Net Via Power Lines

Utility to let customers access the Internet through standard electrical outlets

Customers of Midwestern utility Cinergy Corp. will soon be able to plug into broadband Internet access anywhere they have an electrical outlet.

Last week, the utility said it's teaming with service provider Current Communications Group LLC to offer the technology, known as broadband over power line, or BPL. The system sends an Internet signal across power lines at a much higher frequency than electricity, so the two streams don't interfere. It's an innovation that has never gotten off the ground because of technical limitations, but it holds promise for making broadband more accessible.

"The technology has been around for so long, but it's been poorly implemented," says IDC analyst Paul Strauss. Previous BPL products were significantly slower than other broadband options, or the hardware was prohibitively expensive.

But Current and Cinergy say they've got it working and later this month will roll out the service to a market covering more than 1.5 million customers in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Users only need to plug a $30 power-line modem into any electric socket, and they'll get always-on Internet access at speeds and prices comparable to that of a cable or DSL connection.

If the service works as promised, BPL could be a boon for companies and consumers in rural areas where cable and DSL service aren't available.

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