August 3, 2020

Annual T&T Event, Fall Regional Meetings to Go All Virtual! Register Now!

We are just a few weeks away from the first-ever virtual Telecom & Technology Annual Conference! The virtual annual conference starts on Aug. 18 and runs through Sept. 4—are you registered?

Conference delegates will be able to engage with presenters, ask questions through virtual chats, and set up private meetings. Attendees will have access to the annual conference session gallery that includes virtual training, summits, pre-recorded sessions, and tracks. Attendees can view the pre-recorded sessions at their convenience or at a scheduled time, after which the panelists in those sessions will be available for a live Q&A.

UTC thanks all of our members, technology partners, and stakeholders who make our work possible. We are also especially grateful for the sacrifices many of you are making to keep powering our lives.

We look forward to virtually seeing everyone in August during the conference and expo.

More information is available at UTC Telecom & Technology!

In related news, all of UTC’s fall regional events will be held virtually as well. UTC and our regional leaders have decided that conducting virtual regional events is the best path for everyone.  Though we’d prefer to see everyone in person, you have our commitment that each regional event will provide attendees with relevant education topics that you expect from UTC’s regional events.

We want to thank everyone who helps make UTC possible and recognize that our events do not happen without your support.

UTC, Utilities Seek Court Review of FCC Spectrum Decision

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) acted unlawfully and against the public interest when it permitted a host of new users into a vital spectrum band that will likely cause communications challenges for public safety and critical-infrastructure industries.

UTC, joined by the American Public Power Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, filed a petition with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn the FCC’s April 2020 decision that opened up the 6 GHz spectrum band to unlicensed use.

Utilities and public safety entities use the 6 GHz band for mission-critical communications; any disruption or interference stemming from new unlicensed users will likely degrade and diminish these critical communications, potentially threatening life and safety.

Despite numerous reports and submissions demonstrating the need for the FCC to act deliberately and carefully with this proposal, the Commission in its April 2020 decision approved an aggressive plan that will allow millions of new devices into the 6 GHz band without any proof or evidence that existing critical-infrastructure and public-safety communications will not be disrupted.

“From the beginning of this proceeding, we urged the Commission to fully vet and test its theories and assumptions that it could safely permit unlicensed users into a band already heavily used for public safety and essential electricity, water, and natural gas services,” said UTC President and CEO Sheryl Riggs. “Existing users of the 6 GHz spectrum band offered study after study demonstrating that the FCC’s plan was flawed and needed to be revised so as to allow a thorough analysis to prove these new devices could operate without causing interference. We do not take this step lightly, but feel that taking this matter to court is in the best interest of our members, our industry, and the public.”

The petition asks the court to determine that the FCC acted unlawfully by permitting new devices into the band without sufficient safeguards to prevent harmful interference. In addition, the petition argues that the agency failed to consider numerous studies demonstrating the high interference risk the rule posed and asks the court to vacate the decision.

With Test Results Proving Interference, FCC Should Pull Back on 6 GHz Rulemaking

With real-world testing demonstrating that unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band will cause harmful interference to existing users, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) should be pulling back, rather than pushing forward, on its ongoing 6 GHz proceedings.

Moreover, the studies used to bolster the Commission’s April 2020 approval of its plan to allow unlicensed users into the heavily used 6 GHz plan are foundationally flawed, UTC said in comments filed last week. And instead of decreasing the already modest power limits on new unlicensed devices operating in the band, the FCC should scale back its proposal until testing has occurred.

UTC was joined in the comments by the American Gas Association, the American Public Power Association, the American Water Works Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The Commission’s proposal “runs counter to overarching policy initiatives by the President, numerous federal agencies (including this Commission), and industry organizations to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure,” the comments stated. “It threatens to exacerbate the interference to mission-critical communications systems essential to the safety, reliability, and security of utility and public safety operations that are certain to occur from unlicensed operations.”

At issue is the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks to 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 (Industry Intelligence, June 1, 2020).

UTC and our allied organizations filed initial comments on the second rulemaking in late June.

In the reply comments filed last week, UTC and the utility organizations noted that real-world testing of the FCC’s existing 6 GHz rules conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute proves that allowing unlicensed users into the band will cause harmful interference.

“The interference levels ranged from severe to very severe and the impact of the interference caused the microwave links to fail completely,” the comments stated. “Interference from unlicensed devices was found several kilometers from the microwave receivers where line-of-sight (LOS) exists, and at close distances (less than 1 km) antenna mismatch between the interferer 6m above ground level (AGL) and FS (59.4m AGL) did not protect the FS link.”

The results of this analysis “show that the Commission should reduce LPI EIRP power limits (as well as standard power access power limits), not increase them,” the comments state.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Utilities: Economics, Not Pole-Attachment Policies, Are the Real Barrier to Broadband Deployment

Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) staff last week adopted a declaratory order imposing greater restrictions and burdens on electric utility pole-attachment policies that will likely have no positive impact on broadband or wireless technology deployment.

Instead, the FCC staff order could slow down the rollout of new technologies as it requires utilities to detail explicitly why certain wireless attachments are being denied due to safety and reliability reasons.

At issue is a complaint filed last September by CTIA asking the Commission to clarify that its August 2018 order on wireline pole attachments. In particular, CTIA asked that the agency consider utility-owned streetlights as traditional poles under its regulations and that it requires utilities to painstakingly demonstrate why certain attachments have been denied.

In its July 29 order, the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau did act on the streetlight complaint but did grant CTIA its wishes on its remaining concerns.

“Because we find that evidence in the record supports two of CTIA’s contentions, the Wireline Competition Bureau issues this Declaratory Ruling to remove uncertainty and confusion regarding the issues raised by CTIA,” the order states. “Specifically, we clarify that: (1) the imposition of a ‘blanket ban’ by a utility on attachments to any portion of a utility pole is inconsistent with the federal requirement that a ‘denial of access . . . be specific’ to a particular request; and (2) while utilities and attachers have the flexibility to negotiate terms in their pole attachment agreements that differ from the requirements in the Commission’s rules, a utility cannot use its significant negotiating leverage to require an attacher to give up rights to which the attacher is entitled under the rules without the attacher obtaining a corresponding benefit.”

UTC is still reviewing the order and considering its next steps. UTC President and CEO Sheryl Riggs issued the following statement in response to media requests:

“Electric utilities empower broadband deployment. All over the country, electric utilities of different sizes and ownership are working to bring broadband service to areas unserved and underserved by traditional telecommunications companies. While there may be a few reasons why certain parts of the country remain unserved, nearly all parties agree that the biggest factor is cost. This is why utilities have such high hopes for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction that we believe will help utilities and other parties bring broadband to more parts of the U.S.

“This is also why we are disappointed with the Commission’s declaratory ruling on pole-attachment policies. While the FCC has done tremendous work funding broadband projects across the country, it continues to focus on the myth that pole attachments are some kind of barrier to broadband deployment. Numerous studies have proven that pole-attachment costs and regulations have little to no impact on broadband or wireless deployment. In addition, prohibiting utilities from applying safety and reliability standards for pole-attachment access will only interfere with processing new attachment applications efficiently and effectively. Moreover, utilities already negotiate just and reasonable terms and conditions for pole attachments – and we disagree with the agency that utilities exercise any bargaining advantage over unregulated communications service providers, many of whom dwarf the size of utilities. While we are pleased that the FCC stopped short of prohibiting terms that conflict with its pole attachment rules, we are concerned that the Commission unfairly places the burden on utilities to justify the basis for any terms that are favorable to utility services.”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC Calendar of Events

Webinars

Committee/Division calls

*NOTE—Due to scheduling conflicts with the Annual Telecom & Technology Meeting, no committees will meet in August

  • Sept. 8: UtiliSite Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Sept. 8: Knowledge & Learning Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Sept. 15: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Sept. 16: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Sept. 17: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Sept. 17: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Rob Thormeyer
  • Sept. 18: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart