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Group pushes for Net over power lines
By Beth Potter, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Friday, March 17, 2006

Consumers could see cheaper Internet access prices if a government group decides to push "broadband over power line" technology in the metro area.

With the technology, high-speed Internet service could come from any power outlet in a house, rather than from a telephone line or TV cable.

The Greater Metro Telecom Consortium wants to know what it would take to bring the Internet technology to the 32 Denver-area cities it represents, said Ken Fellman, the government group's lawyer.

"A duopoly (Qwest and Comcast) doesn't necessarily benefit consumers, because prices are the same," Fellman said.  "But if there's a third or fourth 'pipe' into the home, it would, from a pure economic standpoint, have more impact."

Xcel Energy would first have to upgrade its system to make broadband available, Steve Turner, chief operating officer at Alabama-based International Broadband Electric Communications Inc., an Internet company that works with the technology, told the group Thursday.

Once that was complete, customers who chose the new technology would get a modem-like box to plug into the wall and into their computers, he said.

Xcel Energy doesn't "anticipate doing anything with the broadband-over-power-line arena," said Tom Henley, an Xcel spokesman.  He declined to speculate on what Xcel would do if asked by government officials to invest in the new technology.

Xcel looked into the broadband power line technology 10 years ago and decided it was too expensive and not stable enough, Henley said.

Consumers currently choose Internet service from telephone company Qwest, cable company Comcast Corp. or other Internet provider companies.

Both Qwest and Comcast have said they welcome competition.  Comcast has spent more than $400 million locally on infrastructure in recent years so it can offer new products and services, said Cindy Parsons, Comcast spokeswoman.

In Texas, TXU Electric Delivery power company plans to offer the electric-line Internet service to about 2 million customers in Dallas later this year.  Power companies in Georgia and Virginia also offer it for about $25 per month in test markets.

TXU expects to spend about $150 million on its pilot project, according to industry reports.

"If power companies decide to become phone companies, it will get interesting," Turner said.  "They also want to be the 'bundle' service provider so you don't drift off and buy something from somebody else."

Both Qwest and Comcast sell "bundles," most often telephone, Internet and TV, discounted and rolled into one monthly bill.

Staff writer Beth Potter can be reached at 303-820-1503 or bpotter@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_3610256