Power-Line Play

Google, Hearst, and Goldman Sachs invest in technology that has yet to catch on

Google Inc. really wants you to have broadband.

Current Communications Group, a company with technology aimed at providing broadband Internet access via electrical wires, has raised strategic investments from investment banker Goldman Sachs, media company Hearst, and Google.

Current will use the money to fund work on developing broadband services over power lines to carry voice, video, and data. Roughly two-thirds of the nation still doesn't have broadband, says Current chairman William Berkman, and many utilities would like funds to upgrade their networks.

Power lines have had almost no impact on the broadband market yet. The FCC reported last week that, during 2004, high-speed lines serving residential, small business, larger business, and other subscribers increased by 34%, to 37.9 million. But 90% of that was cable or DSL. Fiber or power-line connections accounted for 2% of the total, less than 1 million lines.

Broadband-over-power-lines technology uses the electric utility to provide Internet access. Modems plug into an electrical outlet and connect to the computer.

Current's principal stakeholder is Liberty Associated Partners LP, an investment partnership between Liberty Media Corp. and the Berkman Family. Other investors include energy VC firm EnerTech Capital.

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