The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has cleared the way for electric utility companies to provide consumers with high-speed Internet service over existing power lines. Consumers will be able to tap into the Internet by simply plugging into any electrical outlet.

Known as Broadband over Power Lines (BPL), this method of connecting consumers to the fast lane of the information highway may also help utilities gather critical intelligence to enhance the security, reliability and efficiency of the U.S. electric power grid. It can more quickly detect power outages, automatically read meters and power down non-essential devices in an emergency.

In a formal meeting, the five FCC commissioners affirmed the application of existing technical rules to BPL deployments and implemented additional rules to facilitate continued BPL roll-outs, marking the conclusion of a nearly two-year rulemaking process.

How quickly can consumers expect to see this service offered? Even before the official rulemaking, some companies have been setting up these systems around the country, mainly in areas where traditional high-speed internet service is spotty.

Current Communications Group has formed two joint ventures with Cinergy, a diversified energy company. The first venture will provide a bundle of broadband and voice services to Cinergy's 1.5 million customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The second venture will deploy BPL to smaller municipal and cooperatively owned power companies covering 24 million customers across the United States.

"Today's FCC decision is as significant as the Commission's decision a decade ago to foster competition in the mobile telephone and video programming businesses, through PCS and direct broadcast satellite licensing," said William Berkman, Chairman of Currcent Communications Group.

"BPL is a high-quality alternative that transforms every in-home power outlet into a broadband outlet and will help bridge the gap in services to America's underserved communities. Furthermore, it enables electric utilities to enhance their systems' reliability and broaden their service offerings efficiently through a single general communications network built on their existing infrastructure," Berkman added.