June 1, 2020

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UTC Considering Next Steps after FCC’s 6 GHz Rule Gets Published

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) April rule permitting unlicensed users access to the critical 6 GHz band was published last week in the Federal Register, officially starting the clock for parties to challenge the rule either in federal court or with the agency itself.

At least one organization—APCO, which represents public safety organizations—filed with the FCC for a stay and reconsideration of the 6 GHz order.

The FCC in April finalized a rule siding with big technology firms in allowing them free access to the 6 GHz spectrum band, which until now has been reserved for licensed use only (Industry Intelligence, April 27, 2020). Now that the order has been published in the Federal Register, parties can officially ask the Commission to reconsider the order or challenge the order in federal court.

In related news, the FCC also published its additional proposed rule that, if approved, would reduce the modest power limits the agency imposed on unlicensed use in the band. In its April order, the FCC restricted the “power spectral density” of new indoor devices in the band to 5 dMb/MHz. In this second proposed rulemaking, the FCC is seeking to increase that power level to 8 dBm, despite numerous studies submitted into the record demonstrating that even the 5 dBm limit will result in harmful interference to existing users.

UTC will be convening with its members as it develops comments in the proceeding, which are due on June 29.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Bipartisan House Duo Introduces RDOF Acceleration Funding Bill

House of Representatives Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) last week unveiled the “Rural Broadband Acceleration Act,” bipartisan legislation that directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund shovel-ready, high-speed internet projects immediately, so consumers can access broadband within a year.

“The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the severity and magnitude of the rural-urban digital divide. Telework, telemedicine, and distance learning are impossible in areas without broadband access. Our bipartisan legislation will fund hundreds of rural broadband construction projects immediately,” House Majority Whip Clyburn said. “I have made it my mission to ensure high-speed internet is accessible and affordable to all, and seeing the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act signed into law as we continue the federal response to the Covid crisis is my top priority.”

The Rural Broadband Acceleration Act directs the FCC to accelerate the deployment of funds to bidders in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that commit to: 1) build a gigabit tier broadband network; 2) begin construction within 6 months of receiving funding; and 3) provide internet service within a year.

Last month in an open letter to Congress, the CEOs of more than 70 rural electric cooperatives committed to fiber-to-the-premise construction projects if the Clyburn-Upton proposal was adopted.  In recent weeks, other rural phones and electric co-ops have also expressed support. One hundred co-op fiber projects would result in 300,000 miles of fiber construction, passing more than 2 million rural homes, and 5 million rural residents. The economic impact is projected to be $8.25 billion of construction, approximately half of which would come from RDOF and half from the co-ops investing in their local communities.

At 100 new projects, this initiative would lead to 240,000 new construction jobs, plus years of attendant economic activity from these construction workers living and working in these areas. It is estimated that as many as 200 projects would take advantage of this expedited funding schedule.

The Clyburn-Upton language was included in the HEROES Act, which passed the House earlier this month.

UTC has helped lead efforts at the FCC to develop broadband funding programs such as the RDOF that enable electric cooperatives to participate. Most, if not all, electric-utility broadband projects are shovel ready and the communities they serve would benefit greatly from an accelerated RDOF process.

“Electric utilities of all shapes and sizes empower broadband deployment,” said UTC Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Brett Kilbourne. “We are supportive of efforts like the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act because of the great need to provide broadband to these communities. In many, if not all cases, electric utilities are in the best position to bring high-quality broadband services to these areas. We thank Majority Whip Clyburn and Rep. Upton for this important legislation and look forward to working with them and others as Congress debates this issue.”

FCC Official Details Rural Broadband Auction Process

More than 80 UTC core and associate members tuned into our webinar last week about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will disperse $20.4 billion over 10 years to support broadband projects in unserved and underserved parts of the country.

The webinar, which was free to UTC members, reviewed the first leg of the agency’s RDOF proposal that will award up to $16 billion to qualified bidders.

Michael Janson, Director of the FCC’s Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, spoke for more than 30 minutes and then took questions for another 30 minutes, providing details about the RDOF bidding procedures and how utilities can get involved.

To award these funds, the FCC will use a reverse-auction similar to the successful CAF-II auction that awarded $1.5 billion in 2018.  In CAF-II, a significant number of electricity providers won funding to deploy state-of-the-art broadband networks in their service areas.

Mr. Janson discussed how the RDOF is a top priority for the FCC and the auction in October will be the FCC’s single largest step towards closing the rural digital divide.  He explained the process, timeline, and next steps for entities interested in participating in the funding program.

UTC Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Brett Kilbourne moderated the discussion and encouraged those utilities interested in bidding into the auction to reach out to UTC’s Utility Broadband Committee for more information.

If you missed the webinar or have questions, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

Time to Nominate New Committee Chairs!

A Note from UTC Chairman Greg Angst:

Dear UTC Members,

The terms of four UTC Committee/Division Chairs will expire on August 31, and it is time now to identify their successors. First, I would like to thank the outgoing Chairs for their remarkable service to UTC over the past three years:

  • Sheila Wells, Nashville Electric Service, UtiliSite Division Chair
  • Sheila Wells, Audit Committee Chair
  • Dewey Day, PG&E, Public Policy Division Chair
  • Matt Holthe, Nebraska Public Power District, Membership Division Chair

If you would like to nominate a candidate to succeed any of these Chairs, please send me an email note to my UTC email box: Greg.Angst@utc.org. Every UTC member is eligible to submit candidate recommendations. However, all candidates must be employed by UTC member utilities.

After receiving nominations, I will work with the UTC Executive Committee to identify one candidate for each position. Then, those candidates’ names will be presented to the UTC Board of Directors for approval at its August 31 meeting.

Thank you as always for your support of UTC.

Greg Angst

UTC Chairman of the Board of Directors

Calendar of Events

  • RESCHEDULED & VIRTUAL! Aug. 31-Sept. 4, 2020: Telecom & Technology Annual Meeting, Providence, RI
  • RESCHEDULED! Oct. 12-14: Region 6 Meeting, Double Tree by Hilton Kansas City-Overland Park
  • RESCHEDULED! Aug. 4-6: Broadband Workshop, Fairfield Inn and Suites, Charlotte

Webinars

  • June 3: FCC Form 601 Licensing Summary
  • June 9: Training–(PSE) Broadband Deployment Case Study
  • June 17: Spectrum Opportunities in the Part 90 1.4 GHz band
  • June 23: Deploying Networks for Smart Cities Applications and Smart Communities Technology

Committee/Division calls

  • June 9: UtiliSite Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart at rlockhart@utc.org
  • June 17 IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • June 16: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • June 18: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • June 18: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Rob Thormeyer
  • June 19: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart