February 11, 2019

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Electricity Organizations Urge FCC to Facilitate Strategic, Long-Term Storm Response Planning

UTC, along with three major utility trade associations, urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) to engage in a long-term, forward-thinking approach to improve storm restoration and coordination between and among federal and state agencies and the electricity and telecommunications industries.

This approach should include meetings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Department of Energy (DOE), appropriate state and local agencies, and other stakeholders, UTC, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the GridWise Alliance told the FCC in joint comments last week.

“It is this level of engagement with stakeholders that could greatly help inform the Commission’s policies and provide a forum for considering ways to improve service restoration and cross-sector coordination in the aftermath of emergencies like Hurricane Michael,” the groups said.

At issue is the FCC’s latest inquiry into storm response, driven by the telecommunications industry’s difficult recovery from Hurricane Michael last October. After taking comments on Hurricane Michael in particular just before the end of last year, the FCC opened another proceeding taking a broader look at the potential for greater collaboration between electricity and telecommunications companies before, during, and after natural disasters (Industry Intelligence, Jan. 7, 2019).

UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise echo comments made in the earlier proceeding and urge telecommunications firms to undertake greater efforts to engage with state and local authorities. “For example, Southern Company and Gulf Power both report regular coordination and communications with communications providers, including providing communications providers updates regarding electricity restoration status and efforts,” the groups said. “Electric companies typically avoid many coordination problems, because they embed with and are in constant contact with state and local officials before, during and after a storm event like Hurricane Michael.”

The FCC should also promote greater information exchange between the two industries, the groups wrote. “Direct communication between service providers and State and local government EMAs and the relevant State and local EOCs will be the most helpful when coordinating restoration efforts,” the groups said. “Even so, the Commission should simultaneously promote greater transparency in the sharing of information between communications providers and electric companies to help position resources for improved restoration, which will promote enhanced situational awareness.”

This also includes encouraging telecommunications companies to develop plans for alerting utilities about fiber and other infrastructure that are along the path of electricity infrastructure that could be vulnerable to natural disasters, the groups wrote.

“Telecommunications service providers are best positioned to take on the responsibility to proactively inform electric companies where their critical fiber is located,” the groups said. “On that point, electric companies have previously suggested to the Commission that ‘tagging’ fiber lines would be helpful for electric companies to identify which attachments on the poles belonged to which communications providers; and the Electric Trade Associations reiterate this request to urge communications providers to tag their fiber lines. This would promote expedited hurricane response and service restoration. Another solution is for telecommunications service providers to provide locators to electric company crews to facilitate locating underground facilities prior to excavation.”

Last year, UTC’s members passed a resolution that encouraged greater collaboration between the FERC and the FCC to improve sector collaboration prior to and during recovery from natural disasters. UTC has been sharing this same message with members of Congress, DOE and at National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners events. In fact, UTC CEO Joy Ditto will be speaking to this subject at NARUC’s Winter Policy Meetings taking place in Washington this week.

UTC will keep its members informed on any next steps taken by the FCC.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Electric Utilities are Key Partners in Broadband Deployment, UTC Tells Senate Committee

Electric utilities empower broadband deployment across the country in multiple ways, UTC told members of a key Senate committee last week.

In a statement for the record submitted to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for a hearing on 5G, UTC urged Senators to ensure that no customers are left behind in the digital economy.

“UTC applauds the Committee for holding this important hearing,” UTC said. “While there is considerable hype around 5G and the services it may enable, there are far too many areas of the U.S. that do not have broadband service at all. Indeed, several UTC members in rural areas are providing external broadband services to their customers because there are few, if any, private telecommunications firms deploying high-speed, quality broadband in these locations.”

In several instances, rural electric cooperatives are providing external broadband service in areas where large telecommunications firms are not. While these utilities were not necessarily looking to get into the broadband business, they recognize the needs of their communities.

“For electric utilities, the decision to provide broadband services to their customers and beyond is a natural progression because in most cases these utilities have already built communications networks to enhance electric reliability and resiliency; these networks include wireline and wireless services that have narrowband and broadband features,” UTC wrote. “Electric utilities can therefore use both their existing knowledge and, in some cases, their infrastructure to deliver broadband. Importantly, utility broadband services are reasonably comparable to the cost and quality of broadband available in urban areas.”

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to use pole-attachment policies as a means to expand broadband deployment, though UTC told the Committee that the results of these policies are a mixed bag.

“Unfortunately, these pole-attachment policies are not a panacea to expanding rural broadband,” UTC wrote. “Despite pronouncements that reducing regulatory requirements and fees will spur rural broadband, the reality has proven otherwise. Rather, evidence suggests that lower pole-attachment rates have no bearing on the deployment of rural broadband.”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

T&T Spotlight: IT/OT Summit – Enterprise Architecture in a Converged World

[Editor’s Note: Over the next few months, we will highlight sessions at the upcoming Telecom & Technology conference. Registration information is here!]

Enterprise Architecture has been a fixture in IT deployments for nearly three decades. The benefits of a consistent architecture across an enterprise, and the discipline to pull in all relevant stakeholders, yield system designs and deployments that are more efficient and have an appropriate scope. Enterprise architecture, by considering a wider range of issues early in a project, can reduce rework after a system is deployed.

As utilities modernize grids, become increasingly data-driven, and execute more projects that span IT and OT, now is the time to apply enterprise architecture approaches across both IT and OT areas.The same benefits that have accrued to IT deployments can become available to the entire utility.

These issues will be discussed at the IT/OT Summit at this year’s Telecom & Technology conference. The summit will include three utility-led sessions:

  1. Introduction to Enterprise Architecture: The opening session will feature a member utility enterprise architect discussing the roles and responsibilities of enterprise architecture. This session will serve as a level set for the exploration of architecture as an enabler of better integrated IT/OT initiatives.
  2. Enterprise Architecture Applied to OT: In this session a utility speaker will explore concepts and examples of using enterprise architecture approaches in OT projects, and in projects that span IT and OT.
  3. Case Study: For the practical application, a UTC member utility will examine its deployment of Integrated Volt-var Control (IVVC), with a focus on how an enterprise-wide IT/OT converged architecture enabled a more efficient and less expensive deployment of IVVC throughout the utility’s distribution network.

USDA Launches Toolkit to Promote Rural Broadband

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett last week announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities.

“High-speed broadband e-Connectivity is becoming more and more essential to doing business, delivering health care, and, for schoolchildren, doing homework in rural communities,” Hazlett said. “This user-friendly tool will help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-Connectivity in rural America.”

The e-Connectivity Toolkit features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment. The resource is a guide that allows customers to identify their type of e-Connectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects. Resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple Mission Areas at USDA, including Rural Development, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, National Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service.

The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. It is free and available to the public online, and can be easily printed for offline use.

USDA’s launch of the e-Connectivity Toolkit closely follows Secretary Sonny Perdue’s unveiling of the ReConnect Program, a pilot program authorized by the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018, to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Senators Introduce Pipeline, LNG Cyber Legislation

U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in late January introduced the Pipeline and LNG Facility Cybersecurity Preparedness Act. This legislation would direct the Secretary of Energy to implement a program that helps ensure the physical security and cybersecurity of U.S. oil and natural gas pipelines.

“Foreign adversaries are trying to infiltrate our critical energy infrastructure, and it’s imperative that we’re prepared for potential attacks on our energy systems,” Sen. Cornyn said. “This legislation will enhance the Department of Energy’s ability to ensure our country’s oil and natural gas pipelines are secure in more ways than one.”

“Our nation’s economy, security, and the health and safety of our citizens depend upon the reliable and uninterrupted supply of fuels and electricity. This bipartisan legislation would empower the Department of Energy to coordinate a comprehensive approach to make our system of pipelines more resilient and secure,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I’m proud that New Mexico’s national labs are leading the way in developing a national cyber defense strategy and providing technology solutions to isolate our energy systems from cyberattacks.”

The Pipeline and LNG Facility Cybersecurity Preparedness Act would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program in consultation with federal agencies, states, and the energy sector to ensure the security, resiliency, and survivability of natural gas pipelines, hazardous liquid pipelines, and liquefied natural gas facilities.

The bill is similar to legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) (Industry Intelligence, Jan. 22, 2019).

Specifically, the bill would require the Secretary to:

  • Coordinate response and recovery to physical and cyber incidents impacting the energy sector
  • Develop advanced cybersecurity applications and technologies
  • Perform pilot demonstration projects
  • Develop workforce development curricula relating to physical and cybersecurity, and
  • Provide mechanisms to help the energy sector evaluate, prioritize, and improve physical and cybersecurity capabilities

The American Gas Association, meanwhile, has been supportive of efforts by the departments of Transportation and Energy on their Pipeline Cybersecurity Initiative. In particular, the Transportation Security Administration, which has oversight over pipeline security, recently updated its guidelines with input from AGA members.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with questions.

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