Broadband delivery via power lines?

Coming to a home or office near you could be an electric Internet: high-speed Web access via ubiquitous power lines, of all things, making every electrical outlet an always-on Web connection.

If it sounds shocking, consider this:

St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. and other utilities already are testing the technology, and many consider it increasingly viable. This truly plug-and-play technology, if proven safe, has the blessings of federal regulators looking to bolster broadband competition, lower consumer prices and bridge the digital divide in rural areas.

"We're going to have an absolute stampede to move on this. This is a natural," said Alan Shark, president of the Power Line Communications Association, which includes Internet providers such as Earthlink as well as utility companies. "It'll change the way we do business on the Internet."

While existing providers of broadband through cable TV lines or phone wires consider the technology intriguing, they stress that talk of it has been around for years, with nothing to show for it.

Existing broadband providers such as St. Louis-based Charter Communications Inc., the nation's third-largest cable company, believe they have the edge because they are known commodities and can bundle high-speed Internet with video and even telephone service in some markets.

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