A utility company and a telecommunications firm announced plans Wednesday to provide high-speed Internet access in Europe and Asia using existing power lines, bypassing phone lines.
The idea by the British power company United Utilities and the Canadian firm Northern Telecom would expand the use of the internal telecommunications wires that utilities have relied on to send data and read meters.
The new technology would provide data at almost 10 times the speed of the fastest connections currently available to home users, enough to transmit a small novel in a blink.
It would also give power utilities an entry into the highly competitive telecommunications market, posing a serious threat to current Internet service providers who rely on telephone lines.
"What it means is that before their eyes, electric utilities may suddenly become the largest providers of telecommunications in the world," said John Castagna, a spokesman for Edison Electric Institute in Washington. "It means telephone lines are obsolete."
There are currently no plans to market the new technology in the United States, said Peter Dudley, vice president of public network operations for Northern Telecom.
Dudley said a small box, called a "tap," attached to the meter would separate the data signal from the electricity. From there, a cable, without current, would run to a special card inside users' personal computers.
The companies plan to test the technology in in Manchester, England, in the spring. When the tests are completed, it will be offered commercially, Dudley said.