A framework that aims to kick-start the broadband-over-power-lines (BPL) market in California was proposed by the newest member of the California Public Utilities Commission. Commissioner Rachelle Chong's draft regulatory blueprint released February 10 would allow third parties as well as utility affiliates to offer Internet services via utility distribution systems. "The commission believes that more broadband competition will bring lower prices, innovative service, and the potential for new rate plans to consumers," according to Chong. She also expects that rural areas will be able to tap into broadband transmitted via the grid because the infrastructure - electrical wires feeding into homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals - is in place. Currently, DSL over phone lines and cable modems are the predominant broadband market in California, and they are unavailable in many rural areas. "The nation's power grid may be an untapped resource to provide another path for the delivery of broadband service to customers," Chong declared. BPL may "improve grid reliability of electrical systems and decrease California energy consumers' energy expenses," according to Chong, who specialized in BPL before joining the CPUC last month. Data over power lines are transmitted at a higher frequency than electricity so they can move along the wires without interrupting power delivery. However, electric transmission can get in the way of BPL data transmission. Chong sees no need for evidentiary hearings. Neither would she require filing advice letters seeking regulators' approval of a BPL lease. Utilities would only need to provide regulators with notice of a financial arrangement with a BPL provider. Regulated utilities would be allowed to enter the broadband-over-power-lines business with commission approval. Also under the draft decision, affiliate-transaction restrictions would not apply because the service is not considered "energy related." The broadband-over-power-lines regulatory road map would also: - Prohibit use of ratepayer funds for broadband-over-power-lines research or development or to operate a BPL system. - Require shareholders or third parties to finance broadband-over-power-lines expenditures. - Prohibit utilities from cross-subsidizing services, i.e., mixing power fees with broadband-over-power-lines fees. - Require an environmental assessment under state law where broadband-over-power-lines projects require excavation and\/or drilling. - Prohibit the sale of utility assets for broadband-overpower- lines transactions. There are a couple of broadband pilot projects in the state, one launched by San Diego Gas & Electric last September and another in the works by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. Broadband-over-power-lines technology could include interfaces allowing automatic meter reading, demand-side management, voltage control, and equipment monitoring, including power outage notification and time-of-day power usage data.