RALEIGH — Progress Energy and Atlanta-based EarthLink are teaming up to test broadband Internet service in several southern Wake County neighborhoods via the power lines.

This partnership marks the first time in North Carolina that high-speed Internet service is available commercially over the power lines.

“Providing high-speed Internet service via our power lines holds great potential,” said Matt Oja, director of emerging technologies at Raleigh-based Progress Energy. “It could offer a very competitive option for broadband users in our service territories, especially in rural areas not currently or easily served by other high-speed Internet providers.”

Only about 500 homes in southern Wake County will have the opportunity to participate in this high-speed service. Those customers who do sign up for the new service will receive EarthLink High Speed Internet through wireless technology that uses the signal sent over Progress Energy power lines.

The wireless equipment, which will allow customers to connect to the Internet from anywhere inside the home near a power outlet, is free at signup. After that, the service costs $19.95 a month for the first three months and $39.95 per month thereafter.

“EarthLink has always been committed to the innovation of new technologies, which has resulted in product features such as Pop-Up Blocker and spamBlocker,” said Kevin Brand, vice president of product management at EarthLink. “Our work with Progress Energy on this trial of high speed Internet over power lines reflects that mission and demonstrates our commitment to providing more access options to consumers.”

Progress Energy is one of more than a dozen utilities nationwide testing the delivery of broadband over power lines (BPL). The first phase of the test, completed in June 2003, involved about 25 computers in residential/commercial locations and monitoring of distribution line equipment in the North Raleigh area. This second phase will allow customers in selected neighborhoods to purchase the service through EarthLink.

Using technology developed by Massachusetts-based Amperion, Progress Energy can transmit data to a neighborhood relay point over a combination of fiber optics and power lines. Special devices attached to existing electric poles and transformers then send a wireless signal into homes and devices.

Meters on some homes in the new broadband service area will be monitored remotely through the broadband system. Outages in the area will also be monitored through the broadband system and line and service personnel working in the area will be able to access the company intranet and email sites using the technology.

Progress Energy says building a broadband system using power lines may also improve operations and reliability at the company’s two utilities in the Carolinas and Florida.

“Delivering high-speed Internet using our proven infrastructure could help us to improve customer service,” added Oja, “enhance communications between field locations and our dispatch center and better manage our transmission and distribution system as a whole.”

Progress Energy: www.progress-energy.com

EarthLink: www.earthlink.com