UTC just completed a busy week with our Board of Directors here in Washington, D.C. Fondly termed “Board Week,” but not to be confused with “Shark Week” (#oneofmyfavoriteweeksoftheyearbutmykidscannothandlewatchinggreatwhitesharkseatsealssocanonlywatchatnight), we engaged in strategic planning and an advocacy day on Capitol Hill, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). We also hosted a reception on Capitol Hill where we had participation from many of our fellow trade association colleagues. It was a great week, with a lot of interest and engagement from policymakers, kicked off by excellent coverage in Politico’s Morning Energy and Morning Tech on the morning of our advocacy day.
Over the last few weeks, my blog has been focused on the key messages we delivered to policy makers this week – such as spectrum access for utilities in the 4.9 GHz and 406-420 bands should be supported as we will partner with incumbents in these lightly used bands, which should help the marketplace for equipment, and generally be a win-win-win. At the same time, we are very concerned about opening up the 6 GHz band to mobile, unlicensed operations given that it is a much more robustly used band (thousands of licenses for critical infrastructure providers). Sharing in this band is not being presented as problematic by the FCC although we appreciate Representatives Guthrie (R-KY) and Matsui (D-CA) mentioning protection of incumbents as a key outcome of the pending proceeding (likely to be official in the fall).
What I haven’t yet mentioned is the need for education, awareness and collaboration between two critical regulatory agencies that each have a role in infrastructure reliability – the FCC and FERC. FERC has a mandate related to bulk power system reliability, which is impacted by reliable communications – SCADA systems, sensors and power relays all rely on both wireline and wireless networks run by the utilities themselves. However, the provision of those networks is impacted by the FCC’s decisions (on spectrum allocation, IP transition, etc.). In turn, the FERC’s decisions and knowledge impact the provision of telecommunications since telecom can’t run without electric. This symbiotic relationship will only increase as energy providers – particularly electric – use communications to enable more dynamism in their systems as intermittent generation, battery storage and other new generation technologies impact grid operations. And, as telecom carriers are encouraged to be increasingly resilient in storm response and restoration and in their cybersecurity, the need to work with energy providers will increase for them as well.
So, we have proposed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between the FERC and FCC to formalize regular meetings, technical conferences, and other initiatives at both the Commissioner and staff levels. The FCC has such an MOU with the Federal Trade Commission on privacy related matters, and the FERC has several – with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and, more recently, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. While MOUs themselves are typically neutral on policy outcomes, the education and collaboration resulting from such regular engagement is intended to impact policy decisions and recommendations. Of course, UTC has its bias of what those outcomes should be, but the need for better understanding should be supported regardless. The bottom line is that we appreciate the Members of Congress, staff, and Commissioners and Administrators we met with this week, and hope that they will concretely support the idea of a FERC-FCC MOU as we go into the fall legislative session. Until we meet again…