July 15, 2019

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FCC Pole-Attachment Rules Threaten Electricity Safety, UTC, Utility Groups Tell Court

UTC and two electric-industry organizations told a federal court that rules established last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) threaten the safety of electric utility infrastructure and exceed the agency’s jurisdiction.

In a “friend of the court” or Amicus brief, filed earlier this month with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, UTC, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) lodged their support for litigation against the FCC’s August 2018 pole-attachment rules for wireline and wireless infrastructure (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 6, 2018).

The FCC last August adopted rules for “one-touch make-ready” (OTMR), which it believes will help communications service providers more quickly attach equipment to electric utility poles to provide communications services. The Commission also 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.

Numerous entities filed suit against the rules, including a coalition of electric utilities led by American Electric Power.

Although the FCC’s stated reasoning for the rules is laudable—the expansion of broadband deployment—in practice, the rules themselves negatively impact electricity infrastructure and overstep the Commission’s jurisdiction, UTC, EEI, and NRECA said in its petition with the court.

“Any failure by communications attachers to observe the electric utilities’ carefully crafted requirements of notice, safety, and sound engineering therefore represents a potential threat to our critical national infrastructure,” the groups said. “While the FCC’s policy goal of speeding up broadband deployment is laudable, it cannot come at the expense of Amici’s public mandate—safe and reliable electric service.”

Congress, in the Pole Attachment Act of 1978, required that communications companies have access to utility poles, but also gave utilities the opportunity to deny access if there is insufficient capacity on a pole or if an attachment threatens the safety and reliability of the pole itself, the groups said.

The FCC’s August 2018 rules run counter to congressional intent, UTC, EEI, and NRECA said in its filing.

“To the extent an attaching entity desires to install communications equipment in or near the electric supply space, it should be permitted only with the voluntary agreement of the electric utility,” EEI, NRECA, and UTC told the court. “Given the self-evident hazardous nature of performing work in the electric supply space, the FCC should not invite the potential for serious injury or death by removing the electric utilities’ statutory right … to impose reasonable safety requirements on anyone proposing to enter the power space.”

Focused on Utility Broadband? Attend UTC’s Aug. 21-22 Workshop in Kansas City

Since the rural electrification push of the 1930s and the interstate highway system of the 1950s, the United States has never seen such a need for great infrastructure deployment. Higher capacity and more resilient, pervasive broadband must be brought to all corners of the country if we are to ensure that all of our citizens remain integrated into the global economy.

And it is not only the demand for basic broadband but the push towards 5G and further wireless densification that is driving the need for more fiber. How are we to meet this challenge?

Electric utilities are uniquely situated to deliver on this demand. From large investor-owned distribution systems supplying essential backbone and middle mile services to the municipally owned and electric cooperative utilities serving smaller, oftentimes more rural, communities –all electric utilities have a role to play in rewiring our country for the future.

To address these issues, UTC is hosting a broadband workshop focused on meeting the challenges on wiring America. The conference is being held from Aug. 21-22 in Kansas City.

This special 1.5-day workshop will focus on these roles, how each complements the other and the challenges faced by each party in deploying broadband infrastructure to their customers and their communities.

More information, including an agenda and registration information, is available here.

UTC Unveils October Power Grid 4.0—Digitalization Global Forum

Electric utility executives all over North America are welcome to Montréal to share best practices and lessons learned about digitalization. Across the globe, electric utilities are looking to go digital as they modernize their systems to enable greater customer engagement and deploy new and emerging distribution technologies. This forum will be a first in North America.

UTC’s “Power Grid 4.0—Digitalization Forum” will be held in Montreal from Oct. 16-18, 2019. The event is hosted by Hydro Quebec with the premier sponsor being SNC-Lavalin, an engineering partner expert at mastering complex projects over the last 100 years. The event’s other sponsors include Linxon, Juniper Networks, and Black & Veatch.

For all the details about the speakers and meeting agendas, please visit the event website: https://utcpowergrid.org/

“This event will be a key global forum for utilities, policymakers, our vendor partners, and other stakeholders to discuss these important issues,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “By bringing major decisionmakers and executives in North America under one roof, we can learn from each other as utilities consider enhancing investments into new and emerging technologies. My thanks to Hydro Quebec for hosting and SNC-Lavalin for their important sponsorship.”

Nearly all utilities deploy their own information and communications technology (ICT) networks to provide day-to-day situational awareness of their infrastructure. As utilities invest in grid modernization in response to customer demand, these networks are being transformed to enable greater deployment of renewable and distributed energy resources that require a more flexible grid. To support grid modernization, the investment in digital assets is paramount, and C-level executives are continuing to realize that now is the time to allocate resources to transform their core utility business.

That’s why the Digitalization Forum is so timely.

“Managing energy supply and demand is evolving and the interconnectivity between customers and utilities is changing our industry. Great relationship between the North American utilities is key to develop and offer a better outcome that suits the customers’ needs. Hydro Québec is pleased to participate to this first digitalization forum, that brings together, all the major players of our industry to share expertise and best practices, to come up with real solutions and improve performance for the next generations,” said David Murray Chief Operating Officer of Hydro-Québec and President of Hydro-Québec Production.

‘’A vast portion of the power utility infrastructure in North America was constructed in the 1960s and is nearing ‘end of life.’ Power utilities are replacing their equipment while taking into account the numerous changes facing the industry. Such a digital transformation requires capital investments which, if done correctly, can be offset by significant reductions in operational cost. This forum has been created in order to address these issues,’’ said Alain Brière, vice-president & general manager Intelligent Networks & Cybersecurity, SNC-Lavalin.

UTC Files Reply Comments in 900 MHz Proceeding

UTC filed reply comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) on the agency’s proposal to realign the 900 MHz spectrum band for broadband use.

The comments were filed after UTC Public Policy Staff held several conference calls with members to discuss the proposed rule and how UTC should respond to elements of the proposal not considered in a resolution the UTC Board passed in 2018.

Reply comments filed by other utilities in the proceeding were consistent with UTC’s, which supported broadband realignment on the condition that narrowband systems are protected against interference and they are provided reimbursement for their relocation costs.

The other reply comments filed can be found here.

Filing the reply comments marks the end of the public-comment period on the 900 MHz issue. It is unclear when the FCC will take final action. In the meantime, UTC’s Public Policy Team would like to thank those who participated in our calls and offered edits to our comments throughout the drafting process.

UTC filed its initial comments in the 900 MHz proceeding in early June (Industry Intelligence, June 10, 2019)

Upcoming Events

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

  • Aug. 21-22, 2019: UTC Broadband Workshop, Kansas City
  • July 17: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • July 18: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • July 18: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • July 19: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Sept. 4-6, 2019: Region 9 Meeting; Spokane, WA
  • Sept. 12-13, 2019: Region 4 Meeting; Grand Rapids, MI
  • Sept. 16-19, 2019: Region 5 Meeting; La Crosse, WI
  • Oct. 2-4, 2019: Region 3 Meeting; Mobile, AL
  • Oct. 10-11, 2019: Region 10 Meeting; Las Vegas
  • Oct. 16-18, 2019: Power Grid 4.0 Digitalization Forum; Montreal
  • Nov. 7-8, 2019: UBC/UtiliSite Joint Workshop; Franklin, TN