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Business Review Western MI
Business Review Western MI
The Smart Grid
(2007-05-08)
(wgvu) - Revival of a stalled rural high-speed Internet project could spur
upgrades to the state's electrical grid to improve reliability and
reduce current losses.

Los Angeles technology start-up Utility.net this summer plans to start
signing up customers for broadband-over-power-line service in Grand
Ledge, west of Lansing. The service, connecting customers to the
Internet through electrical lines into their homes, is slated to become
operational by year's end.

Utility.net wants to start with offering service to 10,000 homes in that
underserved market, business development vice president David Flaxman
said, reaching a million customers statewide in the next several years.

We're setting very aggressive goals to get to large chunks of
Consumers's territory in the next couple years, Flaxman said.

The service is to use utility lines owned by Jackson-based Consumers
Energy Co., the utility subsidiary of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp.
[NYSE: CMS]. Consumers initially started working with Nyack, N.Y.,
technology consultant David Shpigler in 2005 to deliver BPL service in
Grand Ledge and nearby markets through his Lighthouse Broadband start-up.

The project didn't get past the proof-of-concept stage, however.
It would be the first such project with an investor-owned utility for
Utility.net, Flaxman said. The technology has been backed by utilities
in part because of its promise to deliver so-called smart grid applications.

We're looking again to extend the proof of concept will this
application provide information to us on the performance of the grid,
remote monitoring, outage information, meter reading capacity so
there's this two-way information flow we're looking forward to learning
more about, CMS spokesman Dan Bishop said.

Consumers Energy will continue to keep the service at arm's length,
leasing its distribution lines to Utility.net to install its own
transmission equipment.

But CMS is taking its own look at advanced metering infrastructure, or
AMI, technology. Divesting its international assets, CMS management has
indicated it will invest approximately $400 million in freed-up cash
into utility infrastructure, and AMI could be one such investment.

State regulators, too, want to investigate so-called smart grid
applications. The Michigan Public Service Commission April 24 directed
its staff to convene a statewide collaborative to monitor national
developments and evaluate technologies to pilot or deploy in Michigan.

Utility.net is lining up Internet service provider partners. Flaxman
said, and will offer three levels of service, from 768 kbps to three mbps.

All will come in symmetrical mode, meaning they will allow uploading as
fast as downloading.

The technology has been piloted in rural areas so far by an associated
company, Flaxman said, but symmetrical speeds are of interest to small
and medium-sized companies, which tend to upload data and tap services
such as video conferencing.

There definitely will be a business offering, and we're still working
on how we're going to price that, he said.

Consumers Energy prices will have to be worked out with its ISP
partners, Flaxman added, but will likely run between about $30 and $60
per month, depending on the speed of the connection.
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