March 25, 2019

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T&T Update: Converged Systems for Smarter Communities

[Editor’s Note: Over the next few months, we will highlight sessions at UTC’s June 17-21 Telecom & Technology conference in Fort Worth. Registration information is here!]

For 2019, UTC’s IT/OT Committee will focus on convergence as it affects utilities and communities. The IT/OT Summit, scheduled during UTC’s Annual Telecom & Technology (T&T) Conference for Tuesday, June 18, will examine enterprise architecture as it migrates across from IT to OT environments, bringing its typical benefits such as better adaptability to change, more efficient operations, and improved strategic alignment throughout a utility.

Following the Summit, the IT/OT education track, on Wednesday and Thursday, June 19-20, is “Converged Systems from Smarter Communities.” Reflecting UTC’s Smart Systems for Smarter Communities symposium, this track will look at utilities’ creative approaches in dealing with IT/OT convergence and enabling smarter communities. The track will feature primarily case studies, as speakers will share their wisdom and lessons learned from their deployments.

Some key technologies included in the session will be: using geospatial information systems (GIS) to manage the deployment and support of fiber-optic cables; how Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) affect the telecommunications plan for a distribution network; and preparing your utility for electric vehicles.

The IT/OT track will also examine case studies of successful migrations to IP telecommunications, achieving IT/OT convergence with minimal disruption inside a utility, and a rural utility’s experience in rolling out fiber to its entire customer base.

Both the Summit and the Education track will be loaded with experienced utility speakers, joined by their key technology providers. UTC thanks its sponsors for the two sessions: RAD is sponsoring the IT/OT Summit, while RFL Hubbell sponsors the IT/OT Education Track.

Registration for T&T is now open—we hope to see you there!

Energy, Water Coalition Cite Major Opposition to 6 GHz Plan in Reply Comments

UTC and a coalition of critical energy and water infrastructure organizations reiterated opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) proposal to grant unlicensed users access to the 6 GHz spectrum band.

The groups, representing nearly every electric utility in the U.S., along with the country’s major oil and gas companies and water and wasterwater providers, urged the Commission to consider the multitude of critical-infrastructure industries (CII) which also oppose the idea. Or at the very least, the FCC must take measures to prove opening the band can be done without impacting incumbent licensees.

At issue is the FCC’s controversial proposal to open the 6 GHz spectrum band to unlicensed use. The FCC issued a proposed rulemaking to do so in October 2018, seeking comment on whether and how to protect incumbent license holders from interference (Industry Intelligence, Oct. 29, 2018).

In response, UTC established a coalition with the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Water Works Association and filed joint comments opposing the concept (Industry Intelligence, Feb. 19, 2019). Numerous UTC-member utilities filed their own comments against the proposal as well.

UTC kept its coalition together when it filed reply comments last week. The comments illustrate numerous flaws with the FCC proposal, and highlight the significant concerns about the plan expressed by utilities and other CII.

“There is widespread opposition from utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII), as well as public safety entities and large commercial communications providers – all of whom have demonstrated in detail the criticality of their communications and the unreasonable risk that interference from unlicensed operations poses to the operational reliability, safety and security of the essential services that they provide,” the group said.

Allowing unlicensed operators in the heavily used 6 GHz band “threatens to undermine” the reliability of utility and CII 6 GHz microwave systems, the groups said.

“The record shows that the sheer multitude of unlicensed devices is likely to create aggregated interference by raising the noise floor and cutting into the fade margin that is built into the design parameters of microwave systems,” the groups said. “In addition, the record shows that there is also an unreasonable risk of interference from individual unlicensed devices that would potentially operate in geographic and spectral proximity with any one of the thousands of microwave systems in the 6 GHz band. Finally, there is insufficient evidence on the record to show that the risk of interference can be mitigated effectively” by the proposed automated frequency coordination.

UTC and the groups highlighted points raised by the City of Los Angeles, Southern Company, American Electric Power, Tuscan Electric Power, the American Association of Railroads, AT&T and others who either outright oppose the idea or have considerable concern about how interference can be mitigated.

“UTC, EEI, APPA, NRECA, API, and AWWA are deeply concerned that the Commission has failed to adequately consider the record evidence and these practical realities in proposing to open the 6 GHz band for unlicensed operations,” the groups said.

With the commenting aspect of the 6 GHz proceeding over, it remains unclear whether and when the FCC will act. The Commission has set no timeframe for doing so. In the meantime, UTC will remain active in Congress and elsewhere to raise our members’ concerns. Please stay tuned for more information.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Utilities ‘Encouraged’ to Apply for USDA Broadband Funding, Official Says

Electric cooperative utilities are encouraged to apply for funding under a government program aimed at deploying rural broadband, a federal official said last week.

Jennine Miller, Senior Advisor for Rural Infrastructure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect), which will make available $600 million in loans and grants to rural entities for broadband deployment, welcomes cooperative utilities in particular.

Cooperatives “have a lot of infrastructure” in rural areas and make ideal applicants for this program, she said during a Webinar last week.

In particular, the ReConnect program, she noted, “encourages” states to remove barriers which may prohibit cooperatives or other utilities from providing broadband services. The program includes a weighting system which gives extra points to those entities who are based in states that allow any utility to deploy broadband.

The ReConnect program stems from legislation Congress passed last year, Ms. Miller noted. USDA is “very thankful Congress allows cooperatives” and other entities to participate in the program.

[Editor’s Note: USDA announced the time and dates for four information workshops for the ReConnect program. The workshops are as follows: April 2-3, Washington, PA.; April 9-10, Tucson, AZ.; April 16-17, Junction City, KS.; April 23-24, Welches, OR.]

Eligibility is limited by broadband availability, she noted. That is, entities can only apply for the loans and grants if they propose to serve rural areas that are 90% unserved by speeds of at least 10 megabits per second downstream and 1 megabit per second upstream. A rural area is defined as areas that are not located in a city, town or incorporate area that has a population greater than 20,000 or an urbanized area adjacent to a city or town with a population greater than 50,000 people. In addition, eligible areas must be completely contained within a rural area or composed of multiple rural areas.

Applications may be filed for three types of funding: 100 percent (%) loans, 50% loan/50% grants, or 100% grants. To be eligible for a 100% loan or 50% loan/50% grant, the proposed funded service area in an application must be in a rural area where 90% of the households do not have sufficient broadband access. To be eligible for a 100% grant, the proposed funded service area in an application must be in a rural area where 100% of the households do not have sufficient broadband access.

Each type of funding has $200 million available, but depending on the type of application, the maximum amount for each project and the interest rate/matching contribution amount varies: for 100% grants the cap is $25 million and the entity must provide a matching contribution of 25% of the cost of the overall project; for 50/50 grant and loan applications, the cap is $25 million for the grant and $25 million for the loan and the interest rate is the Treasury rate for the remaining amortization period at the time of each advance of funds; for the 100% loan applications the cap is $50 million and the interest rate will be set at a fixed 2% tangible equity to total assets must be at least 20 percent at the end of the calendar year starting in the third year of the forecast period through the remainder of the forecast period.

No matter which funding type the applicant requests, the proposed network must be capable of providing service to every premise in the proposed funded service area at a speed of at minimum, 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.

In its comments last fall to USDA’s Rural Utilities Service—the entity within USDA responsible for this program—UTC urged the agency to view utilities as potential applicants and to ensure its awards go to products and technologies that do not quickly become obsolete (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 17, 2018).

UTC advocates for utilities interested in providing broadband service through its Utilities Broadband Committee (UBC). UBC meets monthly and discusses, among other issues, federal funding opportunities. Please contact the UBC Team for more information.

Federal Panel to Explore Incentives for Security Investments

Cyber and physical security threats and mitigation will be the top focal points of a joint meeting this week between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, the Commission) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

The March 28 meeting—the first of its kind between FERC and DOE—will also review incentives and cost-recovery mechanisms to encourage utilities and other regulated entities to invest in appropriate cyber and physical security measures, according to a recently released agenda.

“This technical conference is aimed at better understanding (1) the need for security investments that go beyond those measures already required by mandatory reliability standards, including in infrastructure not subject to those standards (e.g., natural gas pipelines); (2) how the costs of such investments are or could be recovered; and (3) whether additional incentives for making such investments are needed, and if so, how those incentives should be designed,” FERC said.

FERC and DOE officials have been touting the meeting for several months as an opportunity to focus collectively on both the threats facing the energy industry and whether regulatory mechanisms can be designed to facilitate protection investment.

Although the agenda has been released, the agencies have not made available the speaker list.

The conference will focus on four main objectives: Cyber and physical security best practices; Mitigation strategies; Incentives and cost recovery for security investment; and financial incentives.

UTC will be attending the event and report back on its conclusions in the next issue of Industry Intelligence.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Upcoming Events

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

  • March 25-27: UTC Mid-Central
  • April 16: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • April 17: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • April 18: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • April 19: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Webinar—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • March 21: Public Power Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • June 17-21, 2019: Telecom & Technology annual meeting