Two utility companies are broadening their telecommunications service offerings, providing greater choice to consumers and businesses. Hydro-Québec is preparing to break into the commercial delivery of Internet service over powerlines, while Telecom Ottawa is set to add the consumer market to its Internet offerings. Hydro-Québec is currently conducting trials of a powerline communications (PLC) system, which many utels have long heralded as the wave of the future. This will be the first time it has been deployed in Canada (NL, March 11/03), but because the program is only being tested, the company is reluctant to discuss the prospects for PLC. "We’re very much in the exploratory phase," a Hydro-Québec spokesperson tells Network Letter. "So it’s too early to talk about it."A telecom consultant is excited by the possible rollout of PLC, but cautions that there could be problems. "I believe the Ethernet over powerline has distance limitations similar to DSL," Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting, explains to NL. "So I love the idea, frankly, for the SOHO and SME market. I think it’s wonderful. But if we’re going to get into the same 25 to 30 kilometres from the power grid, what’s that going to mean?" Among other difficulties, PLC is not as fast as fibre. The emerging system delivers Internet service in megabits, while fibre can reach Gigabits or terabits. But many providers believe the slower speeds will be sufficient for residential customers. Despite the possible obstacles, Fox is hopeful about the deployment. She is also not surprised about which utel could become the first to roll out PLC in Canada. "I think it’s going to be cool. I think Quebec is also probably doing it because Hydro-Québec has always been pretty progressive in its use of technology." While many utels across North America have looked at PLC, reaction to the technology has been mixed. Some companies have embraced PLC enthusiastically, others are hesitant, while still others have rejected the idea completely. That doesn’t surprise the COO of the utility telecom in the nation’s capital. "I think every business builds its business case differently and everybody has different goals in their organization," David Dobbin of Telecom Ottawa remarks to NL. "So I think every utility will probably look at PLC in a different way." As Hydro-Québec evaluates entry in the ISP business, Telecom Ottawa is expanding into the consumer market through the acquisition of Trytel Internet Inc. (NL Update, Dec. 1/03). Dobbin is now merging the operations of the two units. "Trytel today does have commercial services but they offer it to small- and medium-sized businesses. That’s why it’s the perfect complement to Telecom Ottawa," he says. "Telecom Ottawa, as you know, provides service to large businesses and the MUSH (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals) sector. So it’s a good match for us." Offering commercial Internet services to existing Telecom Ottawa customers and potential clients may be a good match, but Dobbin faces one problem. Trytel also has operations in Peterborough ON, which is served by its own utel. "Peterborough presents us with an interesting conundrum. Clearly, Peterborough Utilities has a utility telecom company and utility telecom companies have never competed in the past," Dobbin explains. "We’ve opened a dialogue with Peterborough to discuss what to do. There’s a number of options available-partnering, asset purchases, all sorts of things. We don’t know what the answer is yet but we do have an open dialogue going with Peterborough Utilities." He hopes to arrive at a settlement within the next few weeks but could not be more specific than that. The acquisition of Trytel is another feather in Dobbin’s cap since Telecom Ottawa was launched (NL, June 16/03).