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02.20.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
FCC gives boost to new Internet technologies

It’s an odd time for broadcasters at the FCC. While the commission’s focus appears to be on non-broadcast issues these days, its current work could have a direct impact on the future delivery of television programs to the home.

Under new rules being formulated at the FCC, residences could start being connected to the Internet through electrical outlets, and consumers and businesses may find it easier to make cheaper telephone calls through broadband connections.

Once FCC rules allowing delivery of the Internet through power lines are completed in a few months, electric utilities could provide consumers with the ability to plug their modems directly into wall sockets just as they do with a toaster, desk lamp or refrigerator. The power company could offer an alternative to the cable and phone companies and provide an enormous benefit to rural communities that are served by the power grid but not by broadband providers.

Already, some utility companies are running trials offering high-speed Internet service through their transmission lines. While the technology has been developed, it is not clear if such a service would be profitable or able to compete in markets dominated by cable and telephone companies. But the FCC noted that the vast majority of the nation’s households do not yet have high-speed Internet service, leaving the market wide open to rivals.

As to Internet telephony, a majority of FCC commissioners suggest that new Internet phone services should have significantly fewer regulatory burdens than traditional telephone carriers. They recently voted 4-1 to approve the application of a small Internet company, Pulver.com, ruling that its service of providing computer-to-computer phone service, called Free World Dialup, should not make it subject to the same regulations and access charges as the phone carriers.

Industry experts say that neither broadband delivery systems offered by electric utilities or Internet phone service will make sizable inroads for at least the next two years. But in moving forward with the new regulations, the FCC is reducing regulatory uncertainty and encouraging investment to enable the new technologies to move to market more quickly.

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