Dr Media says, watch this space. Wi-Fi is the Interstate of the future, and we know what happened there. The Feds built it, and the automakers, tiremakers, and oil companies, conspired to get cities to eliminate public transpo in favor of cars. Will Wi-Fi become what guaranteed phone service was to the 30’s?


Published: October 20, 2005

You don’t have to dig very deep into the subject of high-speed Internet access before you come across heated arguments over the virtues and shortcomings of nearly every kind of linkage: Wi-Fi, DSL, cable, satellite and “broadband over power line,” or B.P.L. It can be hard to believe that an Internet connection could be the focus of so much passion. But humans have an almost primal appetite for information, and no technology has ever promised such a visceral link to information as the Internet.

The technology that inspires the most heated argument at the moment may be broadband over power line. It’s a simple enough idea. Why not use the pervasive, national network of power lines to provide broadband access? Nearly every residence in the country draws power from the grid, and it is possible that nearly every residence – no matter how isolated – could link to the Internet through the grid as well, potentially with much faster connection speeds than through cable.

Skeptics like to point to trials that have ended unsuccessfully, usually for economic reasons. But there have been successful rollouts of B.P.L. service, especially in Cincinnati and Manassas, Va. The potential of this technology is drawing serious investment from companies like Google and leading to a reimagining of the uses of the power grid both here and in Europe.

The obstacles to B.P.L. include technical complications involving the power lines themselves, possible interference at some frequencies and probable opposition from a few Internet providers. But new research and investment – and the encouragement of the Federal Communications Commission – may well remove those barriers quickly. This new method of communication deserves a serious look.

Once you get used to a high-speed connection to the Internet, it’s easy to believe that you’ve already entered the future. But we may soon look back at the broadband access we enjoy now and realize that it was slow, balky and geographically limited
Published: October 20, 2005