October 1, 2018

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FCC’s Small-Cell Plan Benefits Wireless Industry, UTC CEO Ditto Says

Actions taken last week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) intended to spur wireless development and broadband deployment are likely to do neither, UTC said.

Instead, the FCC’s decisions threaten to preempt local authorities from performing diligent review of small-cellular devices and lower the fees they can charge private telecommunications firms to process such applications. This will only benefit the telecommunications industry and not the public, according to UTC.

At issue are the FCC’s Sept. 26 actions that the agency claims will remove regulatory barriers that inhibit the deployment of infrastructure necessary for 5G and other advanced wireless services. The final orders were not available at press time.

The first part of the Commission’s decision, a Declaratory Ruling, focuses primarily on local fees for the authorizations necessary to deploy small wireless facilities.  Specifically, the Declaratory Ruling:

  • Explains when a state or local regulation of wireless infrastructure deployment constitutes an effective prohibition of service prohibited by Sections 253 or 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act;
  • Concludes that Section 253 and 332(c)(7) limit state and local governments to charging fees that are no greater than a reasonable approximation of objectively reasonable costs for processing applications and for managing deployments in the rights-of-way.
  • Removes uncertainty by identifying specific fee levels for small wireless facility deployments that presumably comply with the relevant standard; and
  • Provides guidance on when certain state and local non-fee requirements that are allowed under the Act—such as aesthetic and undergrounding requirements—may constitute an effective prohibition of service.

The second part of the Commission’s decision, the Third Report & Order in the Wireless Infrastructure Docket:

  • Establishes two new shot clocks for small wireless facilities (60 days for collocation on preexisting structures and 90 days for new builds);
  • Codifies the existing 90 and 150 day shot clocks for wireless facility deployments that do not qualify as small cells that were established in 2009;
  • Concludes that all state and local government authorizations necessary for the deployment of personal wireless service infrastructure are subject to those shot clocks; and
  • Adopts a new remedy for missed shot clocks by finding that a failure to act within the new small wireless facility shot clock constitutes a presumptive prohibition on the provision of services.

Unfortunately, despite the FCC’s intentions to expedite the deployment of 5G and broadband services, this plan will likely do neither, UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto said. Noting that the FCC has for years claimed that lowering “pole-attachment” fees will spur rural broadband deployment, Ms. Ditto said that the digital divide has only grown.

“We are still reviewing today’s action by the Federal Communications Commission. At first blush, we are troubled by the Commission’s decision to threaten to preempt local authorities who are best suited to review applications to site small-wireless facilities. The utility industry understands the need for regulatory certainty when it comes to infrastructure projects. Planning system upgrades, replacements, and new infrastructure takes time and money, so a deliberate review is essential to the process. Such review gives the public confidence that any new infrastructure is safe, sound, reliable, and state of the art,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the plan approved today by the FCC reduces many of these safeguards and overreaches in its effort to promote the deployment of 5G small cellular facilities. By imposing regulatory limits on the fees governmental entities can impose for small-cell attachments to municipal infrastructure—including utility poles—the FCC is overstepping its authorities under the Communications Act, which prohibits such action. Moreover, despite the rhetoric that regulating these fees would result in broader deployment of 5G services, the reality is that the digital divide is increasing as wireless and wireline communications providers have either discontinued or significantly reduced the quality of their services in rural America. Reports commissioned by state agencies have concluded that lower pole-attachment fees have no impact on the deployment of broadband services in rural America. Yet the FCC today approved rules that subsidize the wireless industry with no corresponding evidence that doing so will benefit anyone but the telecom industry itself. Worse, those Americans in unserved and underserved locations are unlikely to see any additional investment in improved broadband and wireless services.”

UTC is still reviewing the final decisions to determine any next steps. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC Reiterates Opposition to Expanded Access to 6 GHz Band

With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) expected to pursue a rulemaking this fall to expand access to the 6 GHz band, UTC reiterated its strong opposition and urged the agency to consider the needs of the mission-critical networks already efficiently using the band.

In Sept. 26 comments to the agency, UTC urged the Commission to consider the numerous parties—including utilities–who oppose expanded access to the 6 GHz band due to concerns over potential interference to mission-critical systems already in the band.

“As UTC and other interested parties have commented in various proceedings, including the Commission’s Notice of Inquiry, the 6 GHz band is heavily used to provide long-haul high capacity links and it is uniquely suited to meet the needs of utilities and critical infrastructure industries who require highly reliable, cost-effective communications,” UTC said. “Any interference to these mission-critical communications systems can have catastrophic results.”

UTC submitted the comments in response to recent filings submitted by proponents of opening the band which downplayed the threats to interference raised by utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII). Instead, UTC said these concerns are real, significant, and shared by most incumbents in the 6 GHz band.

“History has shown a pattern that is prologue for the 6 GHz band if it is indeed opened up for unlicensed operations,” UTC wrote. “In every other band that has been made available for unlicensed operations –including the 902-928 MHz band, the 2.4 GHz band, and the 5.8 GHz band – congestion and interference have followed. Now, proponents of unlicensed use of the 6 GHz band want the Commission to believe that the 6 GHz band can be shared without interference to incumbent microwave systems, while doing nothing to substantiate their claims. Worse, the stakes are higher if there is interference in the 6 GHz band. The mission-critical communications systems in the 6 GHz band help to keep the lights on, water flowing and trains from crashing. Given the magnitude of the risk of interference to these operations, the Commission should refrain from expanding access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed operations.”

UTC expects the Commission to pursue a rulemaking to expand access into the 6 GHz band this fall. We have raised our concerns with members and staff of the FCC along with Congress and other federal agencies.

As we ramp up our advocacy, we would like UTC core utility members to provide us with use cases about your systems in the 6 GHz band, and what could happen if the FCC proceeds with expanding access. Please send your information to the UTC Public Policy Team at your earliest convenience.

DOE Launches $5.8 Million Funding Program for Grid Resilience, Reliability

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week released a $5.8 million funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support the research and development of advanced tools and controls that will improve the resilience and reliability of the nation’s power grid.

Under this program, DOE’s Office of Electricity (OE) Transmission Reliability Program will seek applications that explore the use of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technology and tools to derive more value from the vast amounts of sensor data already being gathered and used to monitor the health of the grid and support system operations.

The projects funded under this program will shape future development and application of faster grid analytics and modeling; better grid asset management; and sub-second automatic control actions that will help system operators avoid grid outages, improve operations, and reduce costs.

“A strong and resilient power grid is vital to America’s security, economy, and modern way of life,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “This investment in rapid, technology-driven innovation pushes the limits farther than we can imagine, and marks another important step in ensuring the reliable and secure flow of energy that Americans rely on every day.”

Advanced sensors known as phasor measurement units (PMUs) provide time-synchronized measurements of electric power system values using GPS satellites. The resultant synchrophasor data provides system operators with a near real-time snapshot of the grid’s operating status. To date, PMUs have been deployed at over 2,500 locations across the nation’s bulk power electric systems for wide-area monitoring, power system planning, and forensic analysis of grid disturbances. The PMUs have given grid owners and operators unprecedented quantities of data detailing the condition of the grid. Robust tools are now needed for the analysis and discovery of the actionable information hiding within the growing amounts of PMU data so that future PMUs can contribute even more to the operation and design of a more resilient and secure electric system.

The due date for submitting an application is Nov. 9. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC Signs MOU with North American Transmission Forum

UTC and the North American Transmission Forum (NATF) recently executed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to leverage their collective knowledge, minimize duplication of effort. Additionally, the firms promise to promote collaboration in related efforts to provide timely support to energy owners/operators for the planning, management, and operation of the electric transmission system.

The intended collaboration is expected to help facilitate greater responsiveness to the needs of the industry generally, the NATF and UTC memberships, electric power customers, and the public.

NATF promotes excellence in the reliability and resiliency of the electric transmission system. It is built on the principle that the open and candid exchange of information among its members is the key to improving the reliability of the transmission systems in the U.S. and Canada. Members recognize the operation of each member affects the operations of them all.

NATF members include investor-owned, state-authorized, municipal, cooperative, U.S. federal, and Canadian provincial utilities.

For more information about NATF, please visit their website. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Upcoming Events

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

  • Regional Meetings! Click here for a list of the fall regional meetings!
  • Oct. 2: Knowledge & Learning Committee Call; for more information, contact Bobbi Harris
  • Oct. 16: Utilities Broadband Committee Call; for more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Oct. 17: IT/OT Committee Call; for more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Oct. 18: Public Policy Division Call; for more information, contact Sharla Artz