December 23, 2019

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Editor’s Note: Happy Holidays! No Industry Intelligence from Dec. 30, Jan. 6

Happy holidays to UTC members!

As we celebrate the holidays with friends and family, UTC will not publish Industry Intelligence the weeks of Dec. 30 and Jan. 6.

Our first issue of 2020 will be released on Jan. 13.

Please contact the Industry Intelligence team with any questions.

Thanks to all of our members for a great 2019!

FERC ‘Strongly Urges’ FCC to Test Mitigation Measures in Spectrum Proceeding

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) urged their regulatory counterparts to test and ensure that its proposed measures to mitigated potential interference in a critical spectrum band will work as planned before proceeding with a final rule.

In a Dec. 18 letter, all three FERC commissioners acknowledged the importance of the 6 GHz spectrum band to utility communications. In the letter, the commissioners “strongly urge” the FCC to ensure it can protect utilities and other critical infrastructure who rely on the band for mission-critical communications.

“As you consider how the FCC will proceed on its 6 GHz spectrum band proposal, we ask that you consider the implications for electric reliability and closely review the rulemaking comments that discuss the potential impacts of the proposal on electric reliability,” FERC wrote.

The letter cited FERC’s June reliability technical conference, which featured a panel on the FCC proposal. UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto participated in the panel and encouraged FERC to engage with its counterparts on the issue (Industry Intelligence, July 1, 2019). FERC’s letter also noted a recently approved policy resolution by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), which petitioned the FCC to test its proposal before proceeding (Industry Intelligence, Dec. 9, 2019).

“[S]hould the [6 GHz] rule be adopted, we strongly urge you to consider requests from electric utilities and state regulators for additional testing” of its proposed mitigation plan “prior to implementation,” the FERC commissioners wrote.

Over the last several years, UTC has urged FERC to consider weighing with the FCC on this issue, noting the importance of the 6 GHz spectrum to grid reliability.

“We greatly appreciate the FERC commissioners sending this important statement. As the letter notes, the 6 GHz spectrum band is a critical tool for electric utilities to maintain the safe and reliable operation of electric, gas, and water services. We hope the Federal Communications Commission will consider the input from FERC and other government agencies as it considers whether to allow unlicensed access to this vital band.”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

$500M Broadband Funding Window Opens in January

The window for utilities and other interested entities to apply for the second round of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect broadband funding program opens in late January 2020.

In a notice posted earlier this month in the Federal Register, USDA set the window to apply for the latest round of funding to run from Jan. 31-March 16, 2020.

The ReConnect program was originally authorized by Congress in 2018 to build infrastructure for essential internet e-Connectivity services to rural areas without sufficient access to broadband, through loans and grants. Numerous electric utilities were among the winners during the first round of the ReConnect program.

For the second round, RUS is making available up to $500 million in total funding. According to the agency, USDA will make up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. Applications for this new round of funding will be accepted beginning January 31, 2020. All applications will be due no later than March 16, 2020.

“This second round of ReConnect funding will help USDA be an even stronger partner in closing the digital divide in America’s rural communities,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity through boosting economic opportunity in rural America. We know that rural communities need robust, modern infrastructure to thrive, and that includes having access to broadband e-Connectivity. Under the leadership of President Trump and in cooperation with Congressional appropriators, USDA is proud to partner with rural communities to deploy this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

Through UTC’s Utility Broadband Committee, UTC members can learn more about the ReConnect and other broadband funding programs. For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

Member News: Hoosier Energy Rolls Out Cybersecurity Efforts

[Editor’s Note: From time to time, Industry Intelligence will feature relevant news from our core utility members. If you would like your utility to be featured, please let us know!]

As long as there is an internet, threats to cyber security will exist, says Richie Field, Manager of Cybersecurity and Network Operations at Hoosier Energy. That’s why with new threats emerging every day, Hoosier Energy is rolling out several cyber services to make sure member systems are as secure as possible.

The services fall into three main cyber threat areas:
• Disaster recovery (including offsite backup storage)
• Intrusion detection system
• External vulnerability scans

These services may seem basic, Field says, but the benefits are invaluable. And, they’re free.

Hoosier rolled out the following announcement during Cyber Security Awareness Month. Here’s a look at how its members are taking advantage of Hoosier Energy’s cyber security offerings.

Disaster Recovery
Several Hoosier members have begun taking advantage of this backup service, while others are interested in jumping on board when their current contracts expire, Field said. “Hoosier Energy offers computer storage space in the server room, including redundant power and cooling systems. We also provide an internet connection so members can VPN tunnel back to their network in the event of an emergency,” Field said.

Jackson County REMC began using the service a year ago, followed by Harrison REMC in May. “We replicate to the networking equipment at Hoosier Energy every day. In the event of a disaster, we can access our system remotely, run outages, assist members and get the power back on,” said Rodney Brewer, Information Systems Coordinator at Harrison REMC.

Intrusion Detection System
An intrusion detection system helps identify threats to a system. “We can see if attacks are cascading from one member to another or if malicious campaigns are targeted at members,” Field said. “It gives a lot of visibility.”

Since Clark County REMC began using the system last spring, the system has flagged some medium risk activities that the co-op needed to check out, said Network Administrator Brian Tanner.

He’s especially pleased with the dashboard feature. “I can log in, see high-level activity and know what we need to investigate. It’s awesome.”

External Vulnerability Scans
An external vulnerability scan adds another layer of protection, casting a wide net to check on cyber security controls for IT assets, Field says. An IP address is a computer’s passport to the internet. Much like an old-fashioned mailing address for homes and businesses, an IP address is a series of numbers that tells a remote computer how to communicate with other computers on a network.

Harrison REMC is pleased with the service. “The system scans our public-facing IP addresses once a month to make sure we’re not vulnerable from outside attacks,” Brewer said. “It’s been pretty clean so far.”

But the biggest benefit from the cyber security services, the co-ops say, may be peace of mind.

Draft Policy Resolutions for May 2020 T&T Meeting Due Jan. 31

Members of the Utilities Technology Council have until Jan. 31, 2020, to submit ideas or concepts for potential policy resolutions to be adopted at the association’s annual Telecom & Technology conference next May.

This will mark the third time UTC pursues policy positions through the resolution process as approved by the UTC Board in its December 2017 meeting.

Any UTC core utility member can submit a proposed resolution or ideas for a resolution to UTC’s Public Policy Team by Jan. 31. Only UTC core utility members can submit a resolution; if a vendor member has an idea, it must be sponsored and submitted by a core utility member.

Once all the proposed resolutions are collected by UTC staff, the Public Policy Division (PPD) will formally accept and discuss the proposals during its regularly scheduled February meeting. PPD members will have the opportunity to edit and debate the proposed resolutions prior to its March call, at which point the division will vote on the resolutions. This call will be open to all UTC core utility members.

Any resolutions cleared by the PPD will be submitted for review and consideration by the entire UTC membership at the annual Telecom and Technology meeting in Providence, RI, from May 18-22. Resolutions for consideration at the annual meeting must be distributed to the entire association membership no later than two weeks prior to the event. Additionally, the proposed resolutions will also be posted on the UTC Website.

UTC’s core utility members will vote on the proposed resolutions during the association’s business meeting at the annual conference. Each UTC core utility member company will have one vote during the meeting, meaning that core members must designate one person to cast the company’s vote.

Any resolutions approved at the annual Telecom and Technology meeting will be considered official UTC policy and will inform the association as it advocates for its members in Washington and elsewhere.

For more information, please contact UTC’s Public Policy Team. An FAQ about the resolutions process is available here.

Resolutions approved at since 2018 annual meeting are available here.

UTC CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Calendar of UTC committee/division conference calls

March 23-25: Region 6 Meeting, Double Tree by Hilton Kansas City-Overland Park

COMMITTEE/DIVISION CALLS

  • Jan. 14: Knowledge & Learning Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Jan. 14—UtiliSite call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Jan. 15: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Jan. 16: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Jan. 16: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Jan. 18: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Jan. 21: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne