Online Utilities Charge Up

They're racing to cash in on deregulation and lure users

Until a year ago, Ragu Margapuram had been paying his local electric company between $110 and $225 a month. That's routine for a five-bedroom, three-bath house in San Jose, Calif., with an outdoor hot tub. Margapuram likes to use the tub after long days at Alteon WebSystems Inc., where he works as a quality-control engineer. But he didn't need soaking by a utility. So he switched to, one of several upstart virtual utilities that sell power via the Internet. Nowadays, Margapuram uses the Net to pay his monthly power bill--and pockets savings of about 10%. "But I don't do it just for the savings," he says. "I was waiting for deregulation to happen. I don't like monopolies in any industry."

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