January 13, 2020

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A Letter from UTC Chairman of the Board Greg Angst

Dear UTC Members,

Thank you for a terrific 2019! I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family.

As you know, our President and CEO Joy Ditto has left UTC to lead the American Public Power Association, starting today. We are incredibly thankful for Joy for all her leadership in putting UTC on sound footing and achieving numerous wins on the advocacy front that few thought were possible.

The UTC staff remains hard at work to make sure we continue this incredible growth during this transitional period, and I thank them profusely for their dedication to our organization.

To that end, I am proud to announce on behalf of the UTC Board of Directors the appointment of Sheryl Riggs, our Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations, to interim President and CEO of UTC.

Sheryl is well known to all of us on the UTC Board for her thorough stewardship of our finances, operations, and human resources. She brings such energy and devotion to her work that will suit UTC well over these next several months. Her drive and passion for this work will ensure that the UTC remains focused and committed to our mission.

As the Board continues its search for a permanent President and CEO, UTC is hard at work planning our next flight of spring regional events and our national Telecom and Technology conference this May in Providence, Rhode Island, which promises to be another fantastic event.

In addition, I’d like to acknowledge some recent staff promotions Joy made earlier in 2019. First, Joy promoted Sharla Artz to Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs. In this new role, Ms. Artz oversees all of UTC’s advocacy and communications functions, including Congress, federal agencies, the courts, and other entities. Ms. Artz first joined UTC in January 2017.

Joy also promoted Karnel Thomas, with nearly 30 years of experience at UTC, to Senior Vice President of Membership and Meetings. Mr. Thomas is responsible for overseeing UTC member outreach and the Association’s several annual meetings, including the national Telecom and Technology conference held each spring.

Finally, Joy and Sharla promoted Rob Thormeyer to Senior Director, Communications and Advocacy. Mr. Thormeyer manages communications and engagements with various entities, including federal and state regulators, Congress, and the media.

Please join me in thanking Sheryl for serving during this transitional period, and the staff for their continued hard work on our behalf.

Happy new year!

Greg Angst

UTC – Chairman of the Board

FCC Tees Up Vote on $20.4 Billion Digital Opportunity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) will vote on final rules to launch the new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund at its Jan. 30 open meeting.

The rules, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, would establish a two-phased process to provide funding for the deployment of high-speed broadband in areas of the United States where there is currently not fixed broadband service that meets the Commission’s minimum speed standard (25/3 Mbps).

Building on the success of the Commission’s 2018 Connect America Fund Phase II auction, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would allocate $20.4 billion through a reverse-auction format to connect millions of rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks, the agency said.

The Fund would target areas that lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband services in two stages. For Phase I, the FCC would target $16 billion to areas that are wholly unserved by such broadband (where there is no 25/3 Mbps service at all). Phase I also includes a “clearing round” which takes effect once the $16 billion amount is reached. At that point, according to Chairman Pai, bids that offer to provide faster services in certain areas will automatically be chosen over competing bids that offer slower services. This is an important development that should help utilities in their bidding.

For Phase II, the FCC would use its new granular broadband mapping approach, called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, to target unserved households in areas that are partially served by such broadband (areas where some households have access to such service but others do not).

Phase II would also include areas that do not receive winning bids in Phase I. Commission staff’s initial estimate is that approximately six million model-determined locations would be eligible for bidding in Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“This is terrific news for the many rural electric utilities who are either providing broadband connectivity, or considering doing so, to their customers in unserved and underserved areas,” said UTC General Counsel Brett Kilbourne. “We appreciate the FCC for addressing this crucial issue. We are especially supportive of the proposed addition of the ‘clearing round’ which will provide consumers with faster broadband services and make more effective use of broadband funding. Utilities empower rural broadband deployment and grant opportunities like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are essential to their success.”

DHS Urges Cyber Awareness in Wake of Growing Iran Tensions

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is urging critical industries to be vigilant and on guard for potential cyberattacks from Iran resulting from recent tensions between the two countries.

In a Jan. 6 notice, CISA encouraged organizations to take the following actions that could mitigate risk to your organization.

Relatedly, CISA also released a backgrounder on its “Insights” Webpage providing more information about how companies can better protect their cyber assets and in the wake of the increased tensions with Iran.

The notice also includes recommendations that companies quickly shore up their cyber protection systems and be ready to report suspicious interactions to the proper authorities.

DHS also released summaries of the potential Iranian threat:

Also, DHS noted that at this point, it was not raising the national terrorism alert level at this time. However, it encouraged industries and individuals to remain vigilant.

This information was included in the Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee’s monthly newsletter. For more information about the SRCC, please contact the SRCC Team.

Southern, Xcel Detail Successful Small-Cell Pole-Attachment Programs

Southern Company and Xcel Energy last month detailed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) how they have pursued cooperative partnerships with cell-phone companies to co-locate small-cellular devices and other attachments to utility owned infrastructure.

In a Dec. 18 ex parte filing, Southern and Xcel discussed how these proactive, voluntary approaches benefit all parties—the cellular phone companies, the utilities, and, most importantly, consumers.

“The street light colocation programs implemented by Xcel Energy, Georgia Power, Alabama Power, and other utilities are already proving effective in accelerating wireless deployment, and many more utilities are observing closely as they consider similar programs based on their own unique local conditions and considerations,” the utilities said. “Southern and Xcel Energy therefore urge the Commission to focus on ways to encourage and incentivize voluntary programs and partnerships such as these, which provide the most effective way to accelerate the availability of 5G and other advanced wireless services to the public.”

The filing comes as the FCC considers a September 2019 petition from the wireless industry to allow cell-phone carriers nearly carte-blanche access to utility owned street lights (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 16, 2019). The Southern-Xcel filing includes examples of successful small-cell attachments to street lights and notes that not all street lights are built to hold cellular devices.

It demonstrates that a program that encourages and rewards cooperative approaches will facilitate broader small-cell deployments. A top-down federal approach will be much less effective, the companies said.

“Southern and Xcel Energy therefore urge the Commission to focus on ways to encourage and incentivize voluntary programs and partnerships such as these, which provide the most effective way to accelerate the availability of 5G and other advanced wireless services to the public,” the companies said.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with more information.

President Signs Law Enacting Public/Private Cyber-Grid Partnerships, EMP Protections

President Trump signed into law legislation that aims to develop public/private partnerships through federal labs to remove potential cyber vulnerabilities to the grid.

The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act of 2019 was included in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by the President just before the holidays.

According to media reports, the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act would establish a two-year pilot program within the National Laboratories to study covered entities and identify new classes of security vulnerabilities. The program would also research and test technology that could be used to isolate the most critical systems of covered entities from cyberattacks.

It would also establish a working group to evaluate the technology solutions and develop a national cyber-informed strategy to isolate the energy grid from attacks. The working group would include representatives from federal government agencies, the energy industry, a state or regional energy agency, the National Laboratories, and other groups with relevant experience.

The NDAA also included language placing the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of leading recovery from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. The language codifies a March 2019 Executive Order from President Trump which directed the federal government to harden critical infrastructure in the event of an EMP attack.

This information was included in UTC’s Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee monthly newsletter. For more information about the SRCC, please contact the SRCC Team.

UTC CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Calendar of UTC committee/division conference calls