Texans are poised to join a small but growing group of consumers and small business users worldwide who are accessing the Internet over electric power lines.
In a move aimed to increase competition among telephone and cable companies, Current Communications Group will provide broadband power line technology to the electricity distribution subsidiary of TXU, the companies said this week.
Under a ten-year deal worth around $150 million, Current will design, build, and operate a power line network for TXU Electric Delivery to provide service to more than 2 million customers in Texas.
Customers who subscribe to the service simply plug a tiny modem, based on the HomePlug power line standard, into an electrical outlet and connect a cable from their computer for Internet access, which is capable of two-way speeds 25 times faster than other high-speed services, according to the Current Web site.
In addition to traditional data services, the "triple-play" service supports Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and digital quality video streaming, Current said.
Broadband power line technology is not entirely new, and has encountered commercial and technological difficulties over the past several years, including spectrum interference with ham-radio operators, in both North America and Europe.
A few years ago, Germany emerged as a hotbed of broadband power line development. Several regional electricity companies entered the power line fray, including Eon in D??sseldorf, EnBW Energie in Karlsruhe, and MVV Energie in Mannheim.
Eon later abandoned the broadband power line market, claiming the technology is too complicated and costly to deploy with little chance of seeing a return on investment any time soon.
Munich-based electronics giant Siemens AG, which had hoped to be at the forefront of this emerging technology, exited the market in 2001, citing regulatory delays and a lack of European standards.
In 1999, Nortel Networks, based in Brampton, Ontario, pulled the plug on its broadband power line activities in the U.K., claiming the technology would remain a niche product at best. Like Eon, it saw little chance of recouping the millions of dollars needed to develop reliable products and market the service.
Even if several high-profile companies have long since pulled the plug on the technology, the European Union (EU) last year decided to support it in a move to help overcome technical hurdles and lead to greater competition in the broadband market.
The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, became a key sponsor of the Open Power line communications European Research Alliance (OPERA), which is part of its "Broadband for All" program.
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also shown support for broadband power line technology. Last year, it issued a positive report and changed rules to encourage its deployment.
Cinergy Broadband, a subsidiary of Cinergy, is meanwhile offering broadband power line services in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio, area, with plans to expand service into northern Kentucky and Indiana. Current has supplied the technology.