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November 23, 2020

Editor’s Note:

Due to the Thanksgiving Day holiday, Industry Intelligence will not publish the week of Nov. 30. Our next issue will be released on Dec. 7.

UTC is thankful for our core utility and associate members that have sacrificed so much during this difficult year. We are as always indebted to your service.

Thank you, please stay safe, and happy Thanksgiving!

–The Industry Intelligence Team

FCC Delays Action on 6 GHz Expansion Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) will not consider adopting rules based on its 6 GHz Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) as part of its December meeting.

The tentative agenda for the Dec. 10 open commission meeting does not include any items addressing the 6 GHz proposed rulemaking.

This means the FNPRM, which considers increasing the power limits and allowing additional unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band, will likely not be taken up until at least January 2021, though it is possible the agency could push the decision out in a so-called notational vote taken in between open meetings.

Specifically, the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would increase the power limits that apply to low power indoor (LPI) devices operating in the band. In its April order, the FCC restricted the “power spectral density” of LPI devices in the band to 5 dBm/MHz EIRP. In this further proposed rulemaking, the FCC is seeking to increase that power level to 8 dBm/MHz EIRP, despite numerous studies submitted into the record demonstrating that even the 5 dBm limit will result in harmful interference to existing users (Industry Intelligence, June 1, 2020). The FNPRM also proposes authorizing very low power (VLP) operations which would be subject to power limits but not control by automated frequency coordination (AFC).

Throughout the last few weeks, UTC and several core utility members have held meetings with the FCC and submitted additional analyses demonstrating that the FNPRM, if approved, would result in harmful interference to utility communications systems.

“The Utility Industry Associations expressed concern that in absence of real-world experience with the rules already established in this proceeding, it remains premature to move forward with the proposal in this proceeding,” UTC said in a Nov. 17 ex parte letter summarizing a meeting with staff from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s office. Also attending the meeting were representatives from the American Public Power Administration, Edison Electric Institute, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “Incumbent licensees continue to have significant concerns that remain unaddressed by the Commission – that opening the 6 GHz band to unlicensed operations will threaten the integrity of mission-critical licensed communications networks already operating in the band.”

Meanwhile, UTC core utility member Southern Company presented the FCC with engineering analyses of some of the claims by VLP proponents and CTIA provided real-world testing results demonstrating that higher power unlicensed LPI and additional outdoor VLP devices in the 6 GHz band transmissions caused harmful interference to microwave links in the test area.

UTC will keep our members informed on the latest developments. Please contact the Public Policy Team with any questions.

Consumer-Advocate Engagement Critical for Utility Broadband Program Success

As more utilities are finding ways to bring broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved locations, engaging with utility consumer advocates is a critical priority, a panel of experts said at a national event earlier this month.

In a Nov. 9 panel discussion during the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) 2020 Annual Meeting, representatives from UTC core utility member American Electric Power, UTC associate member Tilson, and UTC staff discussed the importance of investor-owned utility (IOU) middle-mile programs to bridging the digital divide.

NASUCA represents the government officials that advocate on behalf of utility consumers in state-level regulatory proceedings.

Brad Hall, External Affairs Vice President at AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power, discussed his utility’s middle-mile project in both Virginia and West Virginia. In his presentation, Mr. Hall noted the at-times frustrating legislative process in each state that ultimately resulted in new laws permitting IOUs to partner with local firms on broadband-connectivity projects.

Mr. Hall, a frequent speaker on UTC events, also noted UTC’s key role in educating and advocating on behalf of the utility industry as more states look to utilities as broadband partners.

Additionally, Mr. Thormeyer provided a more general picture of the utility industry’s broadband efforts, which range from middle-mile projects such as those offered by AEP, and the direct-broadband services offered by public-power and cooperatively owned utilities across the country.

Particularly as it relates to rate-regulated IOUs, educating the state officials charged with representing utility consumers in regulatory proceedings is essential, both Mr. Hall and Mr. Thormeyer said. With utilities investing in grid-modernization technologies and enhanced communications networks, there are ways to offset these costs by leasing portions of utility fiber to third parties, they said.

These points were echoed by West Virginia Public Service Commission Chair Charlotte Lane, who noted that if there were a free market, private investment solutions to rural broadband, there would likely be no need for utilities to be involved. However, the market has not provided an answer to this problem, so innovative, creative solutions such as utility middle-mile projects are essential to closing the broadband gap.

UTC appreciates the invitation from NASUCA to participate in this event.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team for more information.

UTC Calendar of Events

Calendar of UTC committee/division conference calls

Committee/Division calls

  • Dec. 8: UtiliSite Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Dec. 8: Knowledge & Learning Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Dec. 15: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Dec. 16: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Dec. 17: Public Policy Division Call–For more information, contact Rob Thormeyer
  • Dec. 17: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Jan. 25: Security, Risk, & Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
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