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Broadband Over Powerline Future Fading Away

Dying slowly over the past few months, the hope of using utility powerlines for broadband transmission is receiving what appears to be a conclusive nail in its coffin as a Texas utility company this month said it will buy the broadband-over-powerline (BPL) business owned by Current Group.

The purchase by Oncor Electric Co. of Dallas of Current Group assets is the latest in a string of disappointments for the nascent BPL industry. Just a few years ago, BPL was viewed by many as the exciting new technology that would challenge cable and DSL broadband and create a much-needed third broadband option for consumers.

Pioneering BPL deployments in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and in Manassas, Va., have also faded. In Manassas -- once the pioneering test bed for the technology -- the city's supplier, ComTek, has been sold. Ham radio operators had waged a long and contentious battle, charging that BPL interfered with their signals.

The Sault Ste. Marie provider, Amperion, has left the BPL business and reinvented itself as a provider of hybrid networks.

In Australia, different utilities have either dropped BPL deployments altogether or are downsizing them to a point approaching demise, according to recent media reports.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell and current Chairman Kevin Martin were among the early and enthusiastic cheerleaders of BPL.

ComTek, which supplied the technology in Manassas, envisioned the technology as a template for hundreds of municipal BPL networks. The Manassas deployment received grants from the American Public Power Association, the state of Virginia, and the city of Manassas. Interference was one problem, expense was another, and quality was another, according to various reports.

In Dallas, Current Group and DirecTV had hopes of offering BPL service to 2 million consumers, but the now-familiar complaints, cited above, resurfaced and the project never got wheeling.