TXU inks $150 million deal to provide Internet over power lines

Tuesday, December 20th 2005, 10:52 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ A subsidiary of TXU Corp. announced a 10-year, $150 million deal Monday to build a ``smart'' power grid that will make high-speed Internet service over power lines available to millions of Texas customers.

The partnership with TXU Energy Delivery and Current Communications Group Inc., a privately held company in Germantown, Md., will significantly improve TXU's ability to monitor the power grid in real time, company officials said.

TXU Energy Delivery spokesman Chris Schein said the Internet access to be offered by Current was secondary to the smart grid capabilities.

Once completed, the grid will let TXU check meter consumption remotely and pinpoint problems before they become major blackouts.

``We really believe that what end users are going to appreciate is when the spring storms hit and they don't have an outage,'' he said. ``Or if they do have an outage, it's not as long as it was.''

Construction on the smart grid system will begin early next year along TXU's 14,000 miles of transmission lines and 100,000 miles of distribution lines.

Residential Internet service isn't expected until the second half of 2006.

Proponents say BPL could be especially significant for rural areas, where traditional broadband access has lagged, because electricity is more prevalent in homes than cable or even telephone lines.

The deal gives Current access to more than 2 million business and residential customers, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Though pricing and download speeds haven't been finalized, Current vice president Jay Birnbaum expects to compete directly with cable and DSL providers.

It will be one of the largest rollouts yet of so-called broadband over power line technology, or BPL, which moves data at roughly the same speeds as cable or DSL lines, said Alan R. Shark, executive director of the Washington-based Broadband Over Power Lines Industry Association.

Current's only existing widespread availability is through Cinergy Corp. in Cincinnati, where it charges between $20 to $45 monthly for Internet speeds of up to 3 megabits per second.

Birnbaum wouldn't provide subscriber numbers but said the service was available to about 50,000 customers in Ohio.

The company, which counts Google Inc. and The Hearst Corp. among major investors, has smaller pilot projects in Hawaii, Maryland and Southern California.

Most BPL offerings remain in the test phase. One of the current largest rollouts is in Manassas, Va., where 850 subscribers have signed up since the municipal utility began offering BPL in October.

``We think there is a lot of untapped demand out there if the price is right,'' Birnbaum said. ``We want to be able to expand the market.''

Schein said rivals who use TXU's grid would have access to the same enhancements. Customers are free to switch providers under the state's deregulation law. About 25 percent of residents in the North Texas region have changed electricity companies since January 2002.