It's coming – Internet access through the electrical sockets

The FCC has changed its mind and decided it can, after all, put up with a little potential interference to radio signals from letting utility companies offer Internet service via electrical lines. There’s so much information about the competition in this NYTimes article that it’s hard to follow. Seems the gist is the FCC has told the Bell companies they don’t have to give anyone else acces to their existing fiber optic lines into consumers’ homes. This is supposed to serve “as a further spur to the rollout of broadband Internet services,” so other phone companies (SBC, BellSouth) are starting to build their own.

Well, I had to stop there because I wasn’t sure how fiber optic cable relates to the electrical wires we all know and love. Looked it up on the Internet (on a good old-fashioned DSL connection) and found this: “Fiber optic cable is lighter and smaller than traditional copper cable, is immune to electrical interference, and has better signal-transmitting qualities. However, it is more expensive than traditional cables and more difficult to repair.” Ah! Comes the light. So fiber optic cable is merely a higher-tech extension of electrical wires. Cleared that one up.

The only commercial version of the new technology, called “broadband over power lines” (BPL), is available near Cincinnatti, OH. It looks like the utility companies are really excited about this new revenue opportunity. YOu and I can be excited because now we’ll be able to create networks in our homes and offices using a modem we plug into an electrical outlet.

But AT&T and a consumer group claim the decision not to make Bell share its lines will only “tighten the already powerful grip that the telephone and cable companies have on broadband.” Meanwshile, one of the FCC commissioners dissented on the approval to go with BPL, citing a number of serious issues that had been left unaddressed (“questions of whether utility companies would have to contribute to the telephone industry’s universal service fund and provide access to people with disabilities, and whether measures would be put in place to ensure market competition”).

So I guess the question here is how does a governing agency decide what’s fair? Certainly with the many powerful players in this arena, how the FCC answers those questions will have powerful repercussions for lots of people’s pocketbooks. But I kind of like the philosophy of the Bahai religion–they believe that the right answer is always reached when it is reached by consensus. In this case, the consensus decision almost certainly favors giving easier access to the exciting, informational, educational phenomenon that’s the Internet.

RANKING 98 – Be happy, small and midsize business owners. You will all soon have affordable Internet access and networked computers at a price you can live with. All the better access for you and your employees to blog!

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