DirecTV Eyes Powerline Test

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Seeking a high-speed Internet play, DirecTV this year might test an option that hasn't gotten much traction over the past few years: broadband over powerlines.

During a Reuters media summit last week, DirecTV CEO Chase Carey said his company is looking to test that technology in a major city this year.

The nation's largest satellite provider has been open about its efforts to find a viable way to provide high-speed Internet access to its subscribers, including exploring the wireless technology, WiMax. But Carey's remarks marked the first time DirecTV has publicly talked about testing data transfer over power lines.

“We've always said we're taking a greenfield approach to broadband and looking at any and all possible opportunities, including satellite, terrestrial-wired and wireless solutions,” DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said. “Broadband over power lines has always been on a long list of potential opportunities.”

Both DirecTV and the No. 2 direct-broadcast satellite provider, EchoStar Communications, have deals in place with telcos in order to provide a triple-play bundle — voice, video and data — similar to what cable sells. But both satellite companies are also looking at other options.

“Clearly, DirecTV and EchoStar are both exploring a number of different broadband initiatives, whether it's WiMax or DSL or through the power lines, maybe through the new 700-Mhz spectrum auction,” said April Horace, an analyst with Janco Partners.

She pointed out that Liberty Media, which is acquiring News Corp.'s stake in DirecTV, has a subsidiary called Current Communications Group that does BPL provisioning.

BPL technology has not gotten widespread deployment. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners issued a report in February of last year, which said there were seven commercial deployments of BPL and 38 trials, at that time.

“It's been around for awhile, and talked about for years,” said Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. “It's all about economics, and the economics of it don't work very well in rural areas, because of the repeaters that are required. … We should not get carried away and think that they'll [DirecTV] be deploying BPL everywhere across the U.S.”

The head of the NARUC task force, Laura Chappelle, who is a commissioner with the Michigan Public Service Commission, said a BPL trial is slated for Michigan this year. Utility.net will be using Consumers Energy's plant to initially offer 10,000 homes in Grand Ledge, Mich., broadband service.

“There are some impressive, noteworthy trials going on throughout the country,” Chappelle said.

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