Catching Up

November 21, 6:14 pm

It is now November 19, and a lot has happened since I last wrote at the end of October.  The week of the federal elections, UTC’s Board of Directors met here in D.C.  The Board and several invited guests also met for a committee planning and project management discussion as well as to engage in “forward planning,” which is our version of strategic planning. Finally (because it wasn’t a busy enough week with just those things!), we held our Critical Infrastructure Communications Policy Summit to discuss the policies of the next Administration (pretty timely). During the Summit, a number of the UTC Board members snuck out to meet with the offices of several Members of Congress on the two key committees with jurisdiction over telecommunications policy – the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Those were fruitful discussions as these committees contemplate an infrastructure bill (with somewhat vague parameters at this point) and a possible rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. UTC will be heavily engaged in these activities moving forward.

I will discuss more about the Board meeting, forward planning, and the Summit later in the month.  Suffice it to say for now that we had very productive discussions – with a session on inclusion and diversity where we heard from some folks within UTC’s membership on these issues. The Board considered a draft strategic membership plan and agreed with the strategy and goals included. The UTC staff will be editing the draft plan to incorporate suggestions from the Board with the objective of getting a final product approved by the end of this year and ready to implement in 2017. Thank you to all of the folks who participated in these meetings – you were incredibly engaged and helpful.

I promised to mention my final fall trips to UTC Regions 8, 10 and 4 when I last wrote, so here goes. Those meetings seem so long ago in some ways, but all three happened in the latter half of October. Region 8’s Technical Conference, chaired by Travis Phifer of Platte River Power Authority in Colorado, was held just outside of downtown Denver. It was beautiful weather, easy to get in and out of and an efficient meeting – a full day of presentations and a discussion with some of the core utility members about additional engagement (a theme mentioned at all of the regions – hence, the strategic membership plan and the regional activities envisioned therein). Travis has some great ideas about how to impart the value of UTC in that region, and I look forward to seeing him again at the Region 8-9-10 combined meeting in Reno in early February.

Next, sadly, I had to go to San Diego, where the weather was perfect and the Mexican food amazing (just kidding, it wasn’t sad, it was nirvana).  My waistline took a hit, but my taste buds were extremely happy for the few days we were there. Region 10 (Desert Southwest and California) also had a technical conference, but the format was slightly longer than that in Region 8 – essentially a day and a half of meetings/presentations with a reception on the first evening. Lee Onsager, the chair of Region 10 from NV Energy, is also an enthusiastic participant in UTC and is interested in engaging with more of the utilities in his region. A number of members attended this meeting – particularly from San Diego Gas and Electric, given that the meeting was in their backyard. I think, especially in the West with the vast distances involved, the location of the meeting becomes very important. Lee and some of the other folks in attendance also mentioned a desire to do webinars for the region and to identify other activities/services that could be helpful to the members between meetings.  Again, UTC’s membership plan will help focus some of these efforts and use the commonality between regions for everyone’s benefit while also capitalizing on the regions’ unique attributes.region-4-fall16-ditto

Region 4 held its meeting in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a town that I had previously only driven by on my way to Chicago. What a pretty place, and again, amazing weather. While there, the leaves were changing, and the temperature was brisk, but not cold – a cozy fall feeling. The Region 4 meeting was not a technical conference, but rather its annual meeting. Brett Liston of AEP chaired this meeting, and he was incredibly energetic and an excellent leader. The meeting was decently attended, but has room for growth as well.

In terms of issues, in all three of these meetings, there was discussion about the IP transitions, cybersecurity, and spectrum access/interference, and members were briefed on the policy issues in D.C.  I look forward to expanding on this dialogue in the spring especially as the Trump Administration gets up and running and we have a better sense of its priorities in the telecommunications and technology space. In the UTC Industry Intelligence weekly newsletter released on November 18, we provided an election overview pulled together by UTC’s outside lobbying firm, Wittmer and Worrall, so I urge you to review it for the election results.

The bottom line for UTC is that: 1) we are non-partisan, which means we work with both parties and do not get involved in endorsing candidates; 2) telecommunications and technology issues are often (not always, but often) bipartisan; 3) the congressional leadership remains largely unchanged so we know generally what to expect from them – the House Energy and Commerce Committee will get a new chairman (either Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, or Rep. John Shimkus, R-IL), so that will be a change, but we have relationships with both of those members and will be fine either way; 4) the cabinet-level departments will get all new leadership and that situation is fluid at the moment – the Senate must confirm these positions once they are put forward by the President after he is sworn-in on January 20; 5) regulatory commissions like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will get new chairmen because the President’s party always gets the gavel and the majority of commissioners, but some of the commissioners will stay as their terms do not coincide with the election cycle; and 6) the biggest issue to be concerned about for UTC is pole attachments as Congress considers a potential 1996 Telecom Act rewrite.  More to come on all of this as we know more.  Until we meet again…