electricity companies and the internet

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    Electric Companies Plug Homes Into the Internet
    Wed June 11, 2003 10:01 AM ET
    By David Lawsky
    BRUSSELS June 11 (Reuters) - Electricity companies want to give fresh meaning to the words plug-and-play by sending high speed Internet to the wall sockets in your home.

    The first world conference of electric companies, equipment makers and others gathered for a day this week in efforts to make the Internet even more ubiquitous by channeling it through electric wires.

    "Within minutes of opening the box, the customer can be on the Internet," Keith McLean, who heads the Internet project for Scottish and Southern Energy in Perth, Scotland, said late on Tuesday.

    The modem plugs into the wall, then the computer. No extra software is needed. The three dozen players who attended the Power Line Communications summit from Europe, Japan and the United States hope for big growth, although obstacles remain.

    So far, Scottish and Southern has run a pilot project of 200 people using the system. They are ramping up to a new system to serve 15,000 people at 29.99 pounds a month.

    At first blush, the advantages of the electric Internet system seem considerable.

    For one thing, it neatly avoids the "last mile" problem which has stymied high speed Internet competition across Europe.

    Competitors have made little progress against existing phone companies who make life tough by charging too much to use the copper telephone wires which go into homes.

    The European Commission has joined the fray, going so far as to fine Deutsche Telekom, but it says the market is still largely closed.

    Electricity companies have their own last mile of copper into every home, including parts of eastern Europe where home phones are far from universal.

    And the companies reach rural areas too expensive to be connected to high speed ADSL running on telephone lines and too remote for cable TV operators to reach. Power companies have monthly billing and are established.

    "We can compete with ADSL," said Marcos Lopez Ruiz of Madrid, president of the Public Utilities Alliance. Ruiz says the companies can make money with one home in 10 or fewer subscribing, about the same as ADSL and better than cable.

    And the speed is faster than most ADSL, with power company Internet sending the Web in and out of homes at one million bits per second or higher.


    But equipment is expensive and power companies never known for marketing prowess must compete against phone companies, Internet firms and cable companies.

    The new systems face a bureaucratic tangle too. Power regulators, telephone regulators and radio regulators, who worry signals may leak, all want to be in a position to say "no."

    As an internal working document of the European Commission's communications directorate presented to the conference said: "regulatory uncertainty remains."

    The technology has been greeted with enthusiasm at the Commission, looking to promote competition in high-speed Internet as a key technology to make Europe more competitive. But it is unclear how fast the Commission can cut red tape.

    Meanwhile, technological development and demonstration projects are moving apace.

    Industrial experts say Europe leads the new technology with tests at Endesa in Spain, Enel in Italy, EnBW in Germany and EDP in Portugal.

    Basic equipment is made by Ascom of Switzerland and Main.Net of Israel. Signal is sent at 10 megabits per second across high, medium and low-voltage lines in a band from 1.6 to 30 MhZ, that of short wave frequencies.

    Victor Dominguez Richards, strategy director for DS2 of Valencia, Spain, which researches and designs system equipment said: "We have a development path to handle much more."
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