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Check out the combo residential panels. These are typical of a residential service here in southern california. The main breaker AFTER the meter is located on the customer "side" of the panel with distribution, but more easily accessible then in the basement. The local utilies here also require a "commercial by-pass" ahead and after the meter for meterman to safely work on the meter. This is accomplished by removable "nuts" that span the busbars.The meterman can also de-energize service this way, with out removing the meter.
You can also have Meter-Main panels with no distribution, with the OC being either breaker or fusible pull out, also with mandatory commercial by-pass. These are typical in 3R commercial applications, especially at 480v.
Hope this sheds some light.
[This message has been edited by NoShorts4Me (edited 02-03-2002).]