Homes could start being connected to the Internet through electrical outlets, and consumers and business may find it easier to make cheaper telephone calls online under new rules that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has begun preparing.
Taken together, the new rules could profoundly affect the architecture of the Internet and the services it provides. They also have enormous implications for consumers, the telephone and energy industries, and equipment manufacturers.
Michael K. Powell, the F.C.C. chairman, and his two Republican colleagues on the five-member commission said the twin moves, and a separate 4-to-1 vote to allow a small company providing computer-to-computer phone connections to operate under different rules from ordinary phone companies, would ultimately transform the telecommunications industry and the Internet.
"This is a reflection of the commission's commitment to bring tomorrow's technology to consumers today," Mr. Powell said. He added that the rules governing the new phone services sought to make them as widely available as e-mail, and possibly much less expensive than traditional phones, given their lower regulatory costs.
At the same time, once the rules allowing delivery of the Internet through power lines are completed, companies could provide consumers with the ability to plug their modems directly into wall sockets just as they do with a toaster, desk lamp, or refrigerator.
Under the new rules, expected to be completed in coming months, electric utilities could offer an alternative to the cable and phone companies and provide an enormous possible benefit to rural communities which are served by the power grid but not by broadband providers. A number of utility companies have been running trials offering high-speed Internet service through their transmission lines.
While the technology has been developed, it is not clear if such a service would be profitable or able to compete in markets dominated by cable and telephone companies. However, F.C.C. officials noted that the vast majority of the nation's households did not yet have high-speed Internet service, leaving the market wide open to rivals. (The New York Times)
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