Ever since Former Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chair Michael Powell said broadband over power line technology (BPL) was “the great broadband hope,” interest in the technology has grown. Powell's comments came on the heels of the FCC's ruling on Oct. 14, 2004, that BPL could, from a regulatory standpoint, move forward.

Defined by the FCC as a “fundamental component of the communications revolution,” the BPL market is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2010, according to the United Power Line Council.

BPL brings broadband to wall outlets, the most basic electrical system components. Using a modem that plugs into electrical outlets, connectivity speed runs at around 1 to 3 megabits a second.

Transferred through medium-voltage power lines, the broadband signal is delivered through low-power radio signals. Repeaters providing a signal for the homes and businesses receiving broadband are placed at various locations spanning power lines.

“This new technology holds great promise as a low-cost broadband competitor,” said Powell. “The pervasiveness of the utility grid means that almost every home in America can be accessed by this type of service.”

There are two ways for the BPL signal to reach the intended user. The first is through a wireless signal that goes from the pole to the user; the second type is transmitted directly through wiring that goes into the home or business. The utility determines which type to use based on location and other factors.

Mainly touted as an accessible broadband option for the residential market, commercial clients in rural locations could benefit from BPL as well. By tapping into the nation's expansive power grid, broadband can become more -accessible.

There are many areas that are just not equipped to offer high-speed broadband. However, with BPL, if you have power, you can have broadband. Pilot programs, such as a Manassas, Va., deployment, have been quite successful, which will most likely help fuel the technology's continued advancement. As it stands, broadband can be obtained from telephone companies, cable companies and last-mile wireless providers.

BPL does have its problems. On top of regulatory concerns, line static is the other main issue. Each of the wall-outlet modems is a miniature radio transmitter, and radio waves that escape their intended target could cause interference with radio signals used for aircraft communication, emergency systems and shortwave radios.

So what does this new technology mean for contractors? It means that broadband-powered solutions on the market such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and other IP applications can be easily used since customers have another option for getting a high-speed broadband connection.

It also means a whole host of residential cabling and networking projects may be available as more residential customers will be eligible for broadband. All and all, BPL could help create networking projects, something that many contractors would welcome. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.