Select few find Internet access an electrical socket away

For almost four months, Manassas resident John Evans has enjoyed using a new Internet service in his Field Court home, courtesy of the city’s Utility Department.

Access to the Internet doesn’t come over a phone jack or a cable modem. Instead, Evans only has to plug a device into an electrical outlet to gain access to the Internet through the city’s power lines.

“It’s much faster than dial-up. And I can work anywhere there’s a power outlet. I have outlets throughout my house. I even use the Internet on my back porch,” he said.

Evans is one of 15 Manassas residents taking part in free trials of a new technology that allows access to the Internet through local power grids.

Special box-shaped devices inside homes couple with other boxes in neighborhood transformers to send signals over power lines to the city’s Public Works Building. From there, the signals are transferred to the city’s fiber optic ring, connecting with the overall telephone system.

Right now, Line Communications Inc., the company Manassas has contracted, is testing the technology in only a few communities across the country, according to Ronald Lunt, director of telecommunications services for the American Public Power Association.

“It’s very new and still in its infancy,” he said.

This year, Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation allowing the state’s 16 publicly-owned utilities to offer telephone, Internet and other communications services to local residents.

Using a power grid to deliver Internet services allows public utilities such as Manassas to avoid having to build new infrastructure or gain access to local telephone lines.

“Using the power grid is another way to provide needed Internet services to consumers. And if the utility can do that at a better cost, the better the service is,” Lunt said.

In coming months, Manassas Utility Commission and City Council will decide whether to offer the service throughout the city.

Brett Massey, the city’s energy services manager, has been pleased with what he has seen in the system trials so far.

“The technology works. And I think that was really the goal with the pilot program, to show that system was able to do what we hoped it would,” he said.

For Evans, his new Internet access has proved indispensable. An employee of an information technology company, he works mostly at home.

Before Evans was able to get online through his power outlets, he sometimes had to battle his teenage kids in order to gain access to his home’s telephone line.

Now, he’s able to log onto the Internet with ease.

“I could go sit out in the woods near my house if I had an extension cord,” Evans said.

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