Perhaps a glimpse of the future: this Slate article describes a company that has rolled out broadband Internet service over power lines to 16,000 homes in Cincinnati. (New acronym: BPL, broadband over power lines.) There have been daunting technical obstacles that have prevented the transmission of Internet signals through power lines until now, but the company claims to have solved them – and apparently the technology looks good. Other companies are close to rolling out similar service. If the technology takes off, cable and DSL will face more pressure to lower prices and increase speed, and Internet access will move one step closer to being as much of a commodity as electricity.

Speeds over power lines are comparable to DSL and cable, with an interesting difference – broadband over power lines is a “symmetrical” service, where upload speeds are the same as download speeds. DSL and cable are asynchronous – upload speeds are typically a fraction of download speeds. This is slowly becoming more important – first for file sharing, but it also plays a role in Internet telephony and video instant messaging. It’s an important advantage for BPL.

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