Technical limitations have long frustrated attempts to deliver broadband Internet access over power lines, but the idea is once again sparking interest as its backers tout improvements.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules for utility companies that seek to offer Internet access through their electricity grids. The FCC hopes its rules for broadband over power line (BPL) will help jump-start the use of the grid network to deliver high-speed Net access to U.S. households, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas.

“One major objective of Chairman (Michael) Powell is to find ways to encourage broadband for the entire United States,” said Ed Thomas, chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC. “The more options that are available, and the more capabilities provided, and the more diverse the entry vehicles, the better off we are.”

The proposed BPL rules are limited and notably do not address major policy issues affecting the electricity industry that are under the remit of local public utilities commissions. Still, broadband providers and power companies reacted positively to the FCC move, seeing it as a critical first step toward making BPL a reality.

Less than a week after the FCC released its proposal, Internet service provider EarthLink announced it would begin testing a broadband service using power lines leased from Progress Energy, an electricity company that serves the Carolinas and central Florida.

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