December 03, 2018

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FCC Seeks Comments on Michael Response, Recovery, Points to Utility Crews

The Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into the telecommunications industry’s response and restoration to Hurricane Michael, with a particular focus on the damages incurred by the Florida panhandle.

In a notice last month, the FCC issued a list of questions and subjects for parties to comment, including whether utility crews cut fiber during their own restoration.

“News outlets and [the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS)] reported situations of fiber cuts during restoration,” the FCC notice said. “Even ten days after the storm hit, companies reported in DIRS that major fiber facilities were still out of service in Florida. Many communications providers reported having restored fiber links disabled by repair efforts from other entities, include power utilities. How often and when did these cuts occur? What caused these fiber cuts? What steps, if any, did service providers take to minimize such cuts?”

Hurricane Michael made landfall along the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, with speeds clocking out at 155 mph. At its peak, the storm knocked out electricity to approximately 2.5 million customers from Florida to Virginia. Almost a month after the storm, utilities restored service to all customers who could safely receive electricity (Industry Intelligence, Nov. 12, 2018).

Florida officials have praised the utility industry for its collective response to Hurricane Michael. Indeed, Florida Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham publicly thanked utility crews in kicking off a general session at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Annual Meeting last month in Orlando.

However, after the telecommunications sector received criticism from Florida officials and even the FCC, the telecom industry began blaming utility crews for cutting their fiber during the restoration. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly both made statements in the media echoing these allegations, without citing specific evidence.

Comments in the FCC inquiry are due Dec. 17.

For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

UTC Makes Progress on International Policies for Utility Access to Spectrum

UTC is making progress on its efforts to promote spectrum access for utilities on an international basis.

Through its work with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva and the Inter-America Telecommunication Commission (CITEL) in the Americas, UTC is participating along with delegations from governments around the world in discussions on various issues affecting spectrum policies. UTC has joined both the ITU and CITEL as an associate member.

The ITU helps to guide spectrum policies worldwide, and CITEL focuses specifically on spectrum policies in North and South America.

At the Nov. 5-15 meeting of the ITU Study Group 5 Working Party 5A (WP5A) in Geneva, representatives from UTC in the United States and America Latina (UTCAL) introduced a revised draft of a report describing utility spectrum needs and possible spectrum bands that would be suitable for use by utilities. UTC also chaired a drafting group during the WP5A meeting, leading discussions with delegations from around the world to gather input into the ITU report and gain its approval by the WP5A.

During these discussions, UTC succeeded in developing support from among the delegations and approval of the ITU report to be included as part of the WP5A Chairman’s report for the meeting. Next, the ITU report will be taken up when the WP5A meets again at the end of April 2019, where the ITU report will be further deliberated and its status is expected to be elevated in the ITU process that could lead to a formal recommendation for a worldwide harmonized allocation of spectrum for utilities.

As for CITEL, UTC and UTCAL will be meeting during its Dec. 3-7 meeting of CITEL’s Permanent Consultative Committee II: Radiocommunications (PCC.II) in Brasilia, Brazil. UTC has submitted a summary of the ITU report, as well as a proposal for the definition of the term “utility” in the Spanish language.

Submitting the ITU report increases attention on the issue of utility spectrum access in CITEL and promotes coordination between CITEL and ITU. In addition, UTC’s proposed definition of the term “utility” in the Spanish language was submitted in response to Mexico, which had submitted a proposal for a broad definition during the previous CITEL meeting that was held last year. UTC’s proposed definition would narrow the scope of the term to apply to entities that provide electric, gas and water services.

UTC expects that its proposed definition will be approved and that the ITU report will lay the groundwork for further work over the coming months within CITEL, which has established a Rapporteur Group to specifically address the issue of utility spectrum needs. UTC chairs the Rapporteur Group and encourages member participation, which is important both substantively and procedurally for gaining support within CITEL for a formal recommendation for utility spectrum access.

For more information about UTC and its efforts within ITU and CITEL as well as how your utility can provide input, contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

UTC, EEI Urge Federal Regulators to Consider Utility Concerns on Pole Attachments

UTC joined the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) in its support for a group of utilities who are encouraging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) to reconsider elements of the agency’s August order on pole attachments.

In comments filed to the FCC just before Thanksgiving, UTC and EEI said the Commission erred on multiple ways in its August 2018 order, which is intended to speed up the process and lower rates associated with attaching new network facilities to utility poles (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 6, 2018).

The FCC order also adopted rules for “one-touch make ready,” which it believes will help communications service providers more quickly attach equipment to electric utility poles to provide communications services. The order codified a rule requiring utilities to allow overlashing and lowered the rates that incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) would pay going forward for new attachments.

A group of utilities, including Arizona Public Service Company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Eversource, Exelon Corporation, FirstEnergy, South Carolina Electric & Gas, and the AES Corp., asked the FCC to reconsider the August rules. The utilities claim the rule as approved raises concerns as it requires insufficient safety requirements, threatens reliability, and does not actually reduce barriers to broadband deployment, which the FCC claims is its goal (Industry Intelligence, Oct. 22, 2018).

UTC and EEI supported the utility coalition and asked the FCC to consider their concerns.

“Specifically, EEI and UTC agree that the Commission should not adopt a presumption in favor of providing ILECs with regulated rates for newly renewed joint use agreements and the Commission should not cap the rate at the pre-2011 Telecom rate in the event that a utility rebuts the presumption,” EEI and UTC said. “As the Coalition explained in its petition, the Commission erred by extending the presumption to newly-renewed joint use agreements, because it inappropriately enables ILECs to continue to enjoy the additional benefits they receive under existing joint use agreements. Similarly, capping the rate for ILEC attachments at the pre-2011 Telecom rate (even if the presumption is rebutted) systematically prevents utilities from fully recovering their costs attributable to ILEC attachments.”

Regarding overlashing, UTC and EEI reiterated the utility coalition’s arguments that the FCC rules, as codified in August, do not appreciate the safety and complexity of utility infrastructure. “To allow work on a pole with preexisting violations overlooks the risk to human life that may not be remedied after the fact as can be done with respect to damage to equipment,” UTC and EEI said. “The Petition provides substantial support that overlashing has caused significant safety and reliability issues. Moreover, the Coalition is correct to point out the unsafe practices have the additional adverse result of burdening future attachers with additional cost and risks.”

For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

FCC Tees Up Robocalling, Spam Texting at December Open Meeting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) plans on taking up new measures to reduce unwanted robocalls and prevent spam text messaging at its open meeting next month.

In a Nov. 20 blog post, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released several details of his proposal, which includes both creating a database for reassigned numbers and new rules giving wireless companies authorization to stop unwanted text measures through blocking and other anti-spam features.

“Combatting robocalls is our top consumer protection priority, and these proposals are a significant step forward in that effort. Today, I am calling on the FCC to take additional measures to combat these calls and also to prevent a flood of spam robotexts from clogging Americans’ phones,” said Chairman Pai. “Americans rely on and trust text messaging. That’s why we need to act to prevent a deluge of spam texts and scam messages. I’m also proposing new rules to help reduce robocalls to reassigned numbers by creating a database that will help legitimate businesses stop calling those numbers. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting these proposals and continuing our fight against unwanted robocalls and robotexts.”

The FCC will consider these items at its Dec. 12 open meeting. The draft ruling would formally rule that text-messaging services are information services, not telecommunications services, thus allowing carriers to continue using robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures to protect consumers from unwanted text messages, the FCC said. The reassigned numbers proposal would establish new rules in order to launch a database of reassigned numbers. This would help prevent accidental robocalls to numbers that are no longer assigned to consumers who signed up to receive those calls, according to the agency.

Robocalls and robotexts are limited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The FCC has repeatedly established that text messages are considered a type of call under the law and thus must abide by all restrictions on robocalls to mobile phones.

UTC is a member of a broad coalition working on autocalling policies, as many utilities use such tools to alert customers of outages or other important information. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team for more information.

Upcoming Events

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

  • Dec. 5: Nokia-Sponsored Webinar—Variable Frequency Control; Registration Information
  • Dec. 11: ONDAS Networks Sponsored-Webinar–Mission Critical IoT Communications, IEEE 802.16s, Applications and Case Studies; Registration Information
  • Dec. 18: Utilities Broadband Committee Monthly Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Dec. 20: Public Policy Division Monthly Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Jan. 4: Knowledge & Learning Division Call—For more information, contact Bobbi Harris