NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Electric companies may be competing to offer Internet access after regulators cleared the way for utilities to sell broadband services through electrical outlets.
To promote wider broadband access, the Federal Communications Commission Friday changed its rules to encourage the development of a new technology that provides access to high-speed broadband services using the nation's power grid, called access broadband over power line (BPL) systems.
"This new technology holds great promise as a low-cost broadband competitor. The pervasiveness of the utility grid means that almost every home in America can be accessed by this type of service," FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said in a statement.
The costs of rolling out the new service should be relatively small, since the electrical grid is widespread, while the potential returns are high, commissioners said. Electric companies could offer a range of services.
"I was able to watch a DVD-quality movie, play a video game on the Internet and print pages from a Web site -- all simultaneously," said FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin. "Simply plugging a device into an electrical outlet enabled it to communicate with devices plugged into outlets in other rooms, as well as connect to the Internet."
BPL uses a modem that plugs into electrical outlets, and so far the Web access runs at 1 to 3 megabits a second, comparable to other current broadband offerings, the New York Times reported in its editions Friday.
"Today is a banner day, and I think years from now we will look back and see it as a historical day for us," the FCC's Powell told the Times. "This is groundbreaking stuff."
The new rules are expected to boost interest and investment in the Internet by electric companies, the newspaper reported.
Electrical lines reach more homes than phone or television cables, but the actual service through outlets is years away as electric companies have been thwarted in previous attempts to offer the service, according to the Times.
One trial of the new service has begun in Cincinnati under a joint venture between Current Communications and Cinergy (Research), the local utility.
The service offers the access at $29.95 to $49.95 a month, depending on the speed, the Times reported.