Powerline Outfit’s Talking Triple Play


It’s an attractive pitch: plug an adapter into an electricity outlet in your home and get high-speed Internet, telephone and even pay-TV services.

Add Google Inc. into the mix, and Current Communications Group’s plans to begin marketing a triple-play package of TV and telecom services next year in Texas — possibly employing the Google brand — seem even more worthy of monitoring closely.

Germantown, Md.-based Current, whose investors include Google and an affiliate of cable pioneer John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp., says it will deploy high-speed Internet, telephone and pay TV services in the Dallas area by the end of 2006.

Using nascent broadband-over-powerline technology to send data alongside the pipes that deliver electricity to homes, Current already has deployed high-speed Internet access with utility companies Potomac Electric in suburban Maryland and Hawaiian Electric in Honolulu.

Current claims it could market voice-over-Internet protocol phone service and video to electricity customers, as well. But no U.S. company has yet deployed triple-play telecom services that rely on the infrastructure of electricity companies.

Company vice president Jim Dondero says the video, high-speed Internet and TV services Current will deploy in Texas will likely contain brands of other companies that Current will partner with, including Google and Internet-service providers.

“We certainly intend to leverage the Google brand in our offering, and it will certainly be a part of our offer,” he said in an interview.

He wouldn’t detail branding plans, but cited Google Talk (the brand for Google’s Internet telephone and instant messaging services) and Gmail (the name of Google’s e-mail service) as two possibilities. Google spokesman Nate Tyler didn’t return phone calls regarding Current.

Google has invested an undisclosed amount of cash (reportedly $100 million) in Current. Other investors include utility company Cinergy Corp., EnterTech Capital, Goldman Sachs & Co., publisher Hearst Corp., which also owns stakes in Lifetime Television and A&E Television Networks, and Liberty Associated Partners.

Consumers will use self-installation kits to get their high-speed Internet services up and running in Texas, using modems the size of mobile phone chargers that can be plugged into any electricity outlet in a home in order to access the Internet. The modems are linked to computers via an Ethernet connection.

Dondero said Current would name the vendors it is working with, including possible set-top manufacturers, next year.

Current is working with utility company TXU Corp. to offer the triple-play bundle of services in Texas. TXU agreed to pay $150 million for a 10-year agreement to use Current’s “smart grid” technology to monitor its network, Current said.

Customer service might be a challenge when it comes to competing with Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Verizon Communications Inc. and satellite providers in Texas. Dondero said he hasn’t yet hired any field technicians for the video or telephone products.

He also said high-definition TV channels will be part of Current’s TV offering, but wouldn’t say how many networks would be on board. He added: “The market demand model would suggest that there would be bundled offerings as well as a la carte offerings available.”