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FCC's Powell Visits Broadband-Over-Power Lines Project

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell demonstrated just how committed he is to finding competitive alternatives to broadband, when he visited a broadband over power line (BPL) test project Friday, in rural Wake County, North Carolina.

The test, which is bringing BPL to three neighborhoods, is being conducted by Progress Energy, Earthlink, and Amperion Inc. Garrick Francis, Progress Energy spokesman, said a "technology test" was successfully completed last year; The current trial will determine the feasibility of the finer points of the technology and determine its commercial possibilities.

Powell--who has already expressed a strong commitment to BPL--was accompanied by two colleagues. The FCC last month, in an effort to smooth the way to more widespread use of BPL, proposed changes to some technical rules designed to solve any interference difficulties.

"Commissioner Powell saw a 2.5 Mbps downlink and 1.3 Mbps uplink demo," said Matt Oja, Progress's director of emerging technologies, in an interview Monday. "This is more of a middle to last mile solution." While the FCC has expressed an interest in promoting BPL as an alternative to DSL and cable modem broadband, it is likely to be most competitive in semi-rural and rural areas.

Amperion gets involved by supplying 18- to 24-Mbps transmissions of medium-voltage down-power lines. The firm then adds Wi-Fi hotspots to deliver broadband to end users. "We did Wi-Fi because medium voltage used for distribution can be life-threatening," said Bill Simon, Amperion's director of marketing. "Consumers then can do Wi-Fi, which is easy and safe."

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