March 4, 2019

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FCC Plans Vote on 900 MHz Rulemaking at March 15 Meeting

Federal regulators will vote on a proposed rulemaking to realign the 900 MHz block of spectrum from narrowband to broadband later this month.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) Chairman Ajit Pai, in a blog post, said the notice of proposed rulemaking aims to make more efficient use of the 900 MHz spectrum band. The Commission will vote on the proposed rulemaking at its March 15 open meeting, Chairman Pai said.

In its draft proposed rulemaking, released Feb. 22, the Commission proposes to make a portion of the 900 MHz band available for broadband and “implement a market-driven voluntary exchange program to allow existing licensees to agree on a plan for relocating incumbents and transitioning the band,” Chairman Pai said in his blog.

“Over 30 years ago, this band was designated for narrowband communications — think of things like two-way dispatch radios used by business, industrial, and land transportation licensees,” Chairman Pai wrote. “Under my leadership, the FCC launched a fresh inquiry to explore new uses for this band. Based on what we’ve learned, I’m proposing to make a segment of the 900 MHz band available for broadband, which will improve the user experience.”

Specifically, the Commission in the draft rulemaking proposes a 3×3 MHz broadband segment and reserves the remainder of the 900 MHz band for continued narrowband operations. The broadband segment would be located between 897.5-900.5 MHz/936.5-939.5 MHz, leaving two separate narrowband segments–a 1.5×1.5 MHz (896-897.5/935-936.5 MHz) below the broadband segment and a .5x.5 megahertz segment (900.5-901/939.5-940 MHz) above the broadband segment. The Commission is also inviting comment on an alternative realignment to create a 5 x 5 MHz broadband channel.

In addition, the Commission is proposing to use geographic licensing for the broadband segment and seeks comment on the appropriate size of the geographic area for the license. The Commission appears to be leaning towards using counties as the size of the geographic area.

If approved by the agency, comments on the proposed rulemaking will be due several weeks after it is published in the Federal Register.

UTC is still reviewing the proposed rulemaking. UTC’s Public Policy Team will use the resolution passed by the UTC Board of Directors last July as a guide for comments it may file in the proceeding.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC’s Artz Set to Join Panels on Supply Chain, Dedicated Networks at RSAConference

UTC Vice President of Government Affairs, Policy, and Cybersecurity Sharla Artz this week is participating in one of the most renowned and widely attended security conferences across the globe—the RSAConference 2019.

The RSAConference regularly draws tens of thousands of attendees each year. The event aims to serve critical infrastructure industries, government, security stakeholders, and others with the goal of staying ahead of cybersecurity threats.

This year’s conference will be held from March 4-8 in San Francisco.

Ms. Artz will be participating in two separate sessions—moderating a panel on supply chain concerns and speaking on a session on dedicated networks for critical infrastructure. That she is featured twice demonstrates Ms. Artz’s expertise and reputation among her peers, as RSA conferences are notoriously selective in their selection of sessions and panelists.

The supply chain panel will analyze how utilities and other critical energy infrastructure can protect themselves against attacks along their supply chains. The purpose of this panel is to have an interactive dialogue between panelists and audience members on some important questions regarding supply chain cyber security for critical energy infrastructure (CEI).

Regarding the discussion on dedicated networks for critical infrastructure, Ms. Artz will focus on whether utilities and other critical infrastructure need their own dedicated communications networks, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee in a recent report.

“This is an incredible opportunity for UTC, in general, and Sharla in particular,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “Sharla came to us as a well-recognized expert in cybersecurity issues, and her participation in this year’s RSAConference is a testament to her expertise, hard work, and determination. She will represent us well.”

UTC, Utility Groups Point to FCC Poles Policies, Hardening in Storm Comments

A coalition of electric utilities reiterated requests that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) encourage telecommunications providers to harden their networks to better withstand storms and revisit its longstanding pole-attachment policies, which have placed efficiency and expediency over network resiliency.

UTC joined again with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the GridWise Alliance in reply comments regarding the FCC’s inquiry into improving wireless network resilience through encouraging coordination with power companies (PS Docket No. 11-60).

The FCC launched its inquiry in early January. 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 the GridWise Alliance submitted initial comments in the proceeding in early February stressing the need for 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 (Industry Intelligence, Feb. 11, 2019).

In their reply comments, the groups highlighted points made by utilities and other stakeholders who called on the agency to push the telecommunications sector to do more to strengthen their own infrastructure.

“All communications network designs need to account for the risks of the specific region,” the groups said. “For example, an area subject to hurricanes and/or coastal flooding like the Panhandle of Florida should have different network design considerations than an area that is subject to ice storms or an area that experiences wildfires. Such differing risks should be considered in the respective communications provider’s network hardening plans.”

Regarding the FCC’s longstanding pole-attachment policies, UTC and the group reminded the agency of the correlation between its rules—which favor speed and discounted rates—over the integrity of the poles themselves.

“The record reflects the Commission’s new rules on overlashing are particularly problematic because electric companies are not allowed to require the attaching communications company to even submit specifications of the materials to be overlashed,” the groups said. “Moreover, the resiliency of pole plant infrastructure will suffer under the Commission’s current pole attachment rules that do not require analysis of existing pole loading and the impact of adding new attachments or require the correction of existing attachment violations. Finally, the resiliency of wireless networks cannot improve if pole owners are not allowed to require attaching communications providers to meet the same standards that pole owners impose upon themselves.”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

FERC, Energy Department to Host Joint Conference on Security Investment

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, the Commission) and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month they will co-host a technical conference on security investments for energy infrastructure to discuss security practices to protect energy infrastructure.

The technical conference will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 28 in the Commission Meeting Room at FERC headquarters.

“The threats against our nation’s energy infrastructure, particularly the electric and natural gas sectors, continue to grow and the responsibility for protecting our energy infrastructure is shared across industry as well as states and the federal government,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said. “In light of this shared responsibility, we will join with DOE to explore current threats against energy infrastructure, best practices for mitigation, current incentives for investing in physical and cyber security protections, and current cost recovery practices at both the state and federal level.”

“We look forward to building upon our partnership with FERC to jointly discuss and find solutions for the emerging threats facing our critical energy infrastructure,” said DOE Assistant Secretary of Electricity Bruce Walker. “This conference will create a dialogue to explore how federal and state authorities can facilitate investments to improve the security of energy infrastructure.”

FERC will make public additional details of the conference in a supplemental notice. The conference will be open and free to the public; interested attendees are encouraged to preregister online at: https://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/registration/03-28-19-form.asp.

The Commission also recently scheduled the date for its annual Reliability Technical Conference. This year, the all-day, commissioner-led workshop will be held on June 27. No other details have been released at this time.

UTC has met with FERC Chairman Chatterjee, his staff, and Assistant Secretary Walker on multiple occasions to discuss utility communications networks and their importance to grid reliability. Members of UTC’s Public Policy Team will attend the session.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Arkansas Joins Mississippi in Expanding Utility Role in Broadband Deployment

Two more states expanded the ability of utilities and other non-traditional entities to deploy broadband services to their customers and beyond.

Almost a month after Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed legislation allowing the state’s electric cooperatives to offer external broadband to their customers, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson indicated he would approve a bill that would permit municipalities to sell broadband as well.

Media outlets reported last week that Gov. Hutchinson would sign Senate Bill 150, which amends the state’s Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 by allowing government entities such as cities, school districts, and state agencies to provide broadband on their own or enter into partnerships to do so.

The Arkansas legislature passed the bill in late February.

Taken together, the two bills demonstrate how electric utilities and other non-traditional players can empower broadband deployment. The bills may also portend a shift in how states view the need to solve the rural broadband gap. In previous years, many state legislatures have passed legislation specifically banning municipalities from providing broadband services.

Now, with utilities across the country providing broadband service to their customers and beyond in rural areas, states appear more willing give utilities and other entities opportunities to deliver such services.

Through its Utilities Broadband Council, UTC is assisting its members interested in external broadband deployment through monthly calls, regulatory assistance, and opportunities to share best practices. UTC staff also participates in national conferences on rural broadband deployment. Additionally, when necessary, UTC advocates on these issues in Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and elsewhere.

For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

Upcoming Events

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

  • March 12: UtiliSite Call; For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • March 19: Utilities Broadband Committee Call; For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 15: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Webinar; For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • March 20: IT/OT Committee Call; For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • March 21: Telecom Committee Call; For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 21: Public Policy Division Call; For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Feb. 28: UTC Region 7 – click here
  • March 6-8: UTC Region 3 – click here
  • March 25-27: UTC Mid-Central  – click here