April 22, 2019

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T&T Spotlight: Updated Agenda, Tracks, Speakers Coming Soon!

[Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we will highlight sessions at the June 17-21 Telecom & Technology conference. Registration information is here!]

Have YOU registered for UTC’s June 17-21 Telecom & Technology conference yet? If not, why not?

Our agenda is coming together quickly—come hear panel discussions, 101s, and trainings on the most critical issues facing utility communications. Issues such as cybersecurity, data, smart-grid deployments, broadband, and much more will be discussed at the meeting.

Registration is now open for the June 17-21 meeting in Fort Worth, TX.

In the coming days, we will be rolling out a detailed agenda, including concurrent session tracks on utility communications policies, cybersecurity, data, AMI deployments, utility broadband issues, and so much more.

We will host an intriguing general session during the June 19 luncheon featuring trade association executives and senior officials from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Energy Storage Association, the Common Ground Alliance, the North American Transmission Forum, EPRI, and the Smart Electric Power Association.

This session will be kicked off by presentations from Oncor CIO Malia Hodges and Joao Torres, CEO of EDP Distribuição, SA, of Portugal. And we will give out the annual UTC awards!

Additionally, Tuesday, June 18, will feature summits, trainings, and 101 courses on the IP Transition, small-cell deployment, enterprise architecture for utilities, and security incident response.

You will not want to miss this event!

Have you registered yet? What are you waiting for?

Stay tuned for more detailed information, available here: https://utctelecom.org/

FCC Chairman Unveils New Funding Program for Rural Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) will likely take action later this year on a new $20.4 billion fund the agency says will spur rural broadband deployment and infrastructure development.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the plan is part of the Commission’s efforts to aggressively implement policies designed to win the so-called “Race to 5G,” the next version of wireless technologies.

“But in the race to 5G, our early success is still—early. We still need to do more. And we will,” Chairman Pai said in an April 12 speech at a White House event on 5G.

If approved by the FCC, the $20.4 billion fund for rural broadband deployment—called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund—will be awarded through a reverse auction to service providers that will deploy infrastructure to provide up to gigabit-speed broadband in the parts of the country most in need of connectivity, according to a fact sheet.

Electric utilities will be able to participate.

In his remarks, Chairman Pai said the new fund “will extend high-speed broadband to up to four million homes and small businesses in rural America. These next-generation networks will bring greater economic opportunity to America’s Heartland and will help support future 5G technologies.”

At the same event, Chairman Pai claimed the FCC is pursuing regulations, or in many cases, removing regulations, that he believes will allow the U.S. to lead on 5G deployment. He pointed to the agency’s efforts to auction off more spectrum and other decisions which lowered the costs and risks for telecommunications companies to attach their devices to utility poles and other infrastructure.

While utilities, including many UTC members, have supported and benefited from the FCC’s broadband funding, the Commission’s pursuits on spectrum allocation and pole attachments have raised concerns.

The Commission has not released many details about the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. UTC will share additional information with its members when more information is available.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

New Report Highlights Need for Cyber Cost Recovery

Cost recovery for electric-sector cybersecurity investments is a critical component in ensuring that utility companies make key investments to protect the U.S. electric grid from cyberattacks, according to a new study released early last week.

The study, conducted by the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) for the non-profit group Protect Our Power, also concludes:

  • Many systems have not invested sufficiently in cybersecurity;
  • There is a lack of uniformity of regulatory oversight;
  • Improved sharing of confidential information on utility security practices between utilities and regulators is needed, and
  • Resilience metrics are needed to strengthen the electric distribution grid against cyberattacks.

The “Improving the Cybersecurity of the Electric Distribution Grid” report identifies the status of efforts and ongoing challenges to addressing the growing risk of a cyberattack on the electric grid. It also presents best practices that state utility regulatory commissions and their regulated utilities can use to increase investments to enhance grid security. It includes case studies of actions taken in California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York and other states to enhance cybersecurity.

The study identifies several key areas where action is needed, including:

  • Improving protections for confidential information shared between utilities and regulators regarding vulnerabilities and plans to address them;
  • Improving the frequency and quality of utility commission engagement with cooperatives, public power utilities and smaller utilities to elevate the security posture of all distribution utilities;
  • Aligning investment incentives with system needs;
  • Reducing regulatory obstacles to utility investment, and,
  • Deploying new metrics for assessing a system’s security performance.

The issue of cybersecurity investments was discussed at a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) technical conference in March, which UTC attended. During the conference, panelists had mixed views on whether incentives are necessary and would result in proper investments. Additionally, panelists noted that state regulators will likely play a greater role than their federal counterparts on ratemaking decisions (Industry Intelligence, April 1, 2019).

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

DOE Details $20 Million Funding Program on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Tools

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) earlier this month announced up to $20 million in funding which the agency hopes will accelerate the incorporation of machine learning and artificial intelligence into energy technology and product design processes.

According to the agency, the Design Intelligence for Formidable Energy Reduction Engendering Numerous Totally Impactful Advanced Technology Enhancements (DIFFERENTIATE) program seeks to enhance energy innovation by incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into energy technology development.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning has the potential to literally transform every aspect of the world as we know it, and accelerating this technology is crucial to strengthening our country’s economic and national security,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “DOE-fueled artificial intelligence is being utilized across all sectors, from strengthening cybersecurity and national security, increasing energy efficiency, optimizing grid security and resiliency, and developing innovative health solutions. The DIFFERENTIATE program is the latest example of DOE paving the way towards the New American Energy Era.”

In order to organize these efforts, DOE says the DIFFERNTIATE program will identify six general mathematical optimization problems that are common to many design processes. It then conceptualizes several machine learning tools that could help engineers execute and solve these problems in a manner that dramatically accelerates the pace of energy innovation. These projects, the agency says, will seek to develop enhanced artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Proposals are expected to explicitly identify a selected challenge problem, an anticipated solution, a data acquisition strategy, major development risks, and an anticipated path to market for the final tool or software utility developed.

Up to $5 million of the $20 million allocated by ARPA-E under this funding opportunity will be made available specifically for small businesses under ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, with the $15 million balance available to all applicants, DOE said.

To learn more about ARPA-E’s DIFFERENTIATE program and to apply for funding, visit ARPA-E eXCHANGE.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Upcoming Events

A snapshot of upcoming UTC webinars, events, and conference calls

  • May 14: Knowledge & Learning Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • May 15: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • May 16: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • May 16: Public Power Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • May 17: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Webinar—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • May 21: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • June 17-21, 2019: Telecom & Technology annual meeting