To encourage reluctant utilities to get a move on broadband-over-power-line (BPL) projects, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a set of draft rules outlining parameters for the technology. In spite of the 5-0 vote, three of the commissioners had concerns about the new rulemaking.\t\t The proposal aims to "provide regulatory clarity up front" to encourage investment in the technology, said Laura Doll, CPUC deputy executive director. It also aims to increase broadband competition, now limited to DSL and cable provided by non-electric-utility entities. Doll conceded that this rulemaking was "an unusual approach" but said it was needed to encourage utilities to launch BPL projects. Some states are far ahead of California in this area. "Today's action begins to move California back to the leading edge of the technology frontier," said Mike Peevey, commission president.\t\t The technology allows electric utilities to provide Internet services through their distribution system directly to households. Utilities can also use the technology to better monitor and manage their transmission and distribution systems and offer advanced metering and demand-side management. Because the infrastructure exists and only the communications interfaces need developing, consumer advocates are sanguine that utilities can provide Internet access cheaply.\t\t Commissioners Geoffrey Brown, Dian Grueneich, and John Bohn were reluctant supporters. The proposed rulemaking "gives away assets worth billions of dollars" paid for by ratepayers "without anyone knowing it has been done," Brown warned. The proposal would do away with the requirement that utilities seek approval before leasing their wires and poles for broadband purposes. Brown insisted there be hearings on property transactions.\t\t Given the commission's heavy workload, Grueneich wanted to know what staff and resources would be devoted to the rulemaking. She noted that there were more pressing matters, including the CPUC's telecommunication consumers' bill of rights. "We need to focus on setting priorities," she said. "What is going to slip?"\t\t While Bohn also expressed concern about the tight time frame and staffing constraints, he added, "It's important to lob a grenade to get the process started." He said clearing the way for regulatory certainty on BPL deployment would motivate investments in the technology.\t\t Doll noted that if the process is too rushed, "We can take a little bit more time."\t\t San Diego Gas & Electric recently launched a pilot project. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power is also testing BPL implementation. In May, the CPUC submitted a report on encouraging rapid development of broadband to legislators. The commission is seeking public feedback on its draft rulemaking. Comments are due October 6. Also approved by the commission this week on a unanimous vote were rate reductions for San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers. SDG&E received refund payments of $38 million from Mirant and El Paso settlements. As a result, utility bills will be cut 2.4 percent. Regulators also approved commencing an investigation into the development of transmission lines feeding into renewables projects, which are often far from load centers. Planning, project development, and cost-recovery processes will be assessed in the investigation. Issues include assessing network benefits, congestion costs, price, and risk allocation.