October 13, 2020

UTC’s Kilbourne, Bender Represent Utilities on 6 GHz Stakeholder Panel

Two UTC senior staff members will represent the utility industry in a multi-industry group that will attempt to implement certain remaining technical issues identified in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) controversial April 2020 decision to allow unlicensed users access to the 6 GHz band.

UTC Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Brett Kilbourne was elected to serve as one of four co-chairs of the overall group, while Vice President of Engineering Klaus Bender will serve as co-chair of a workstream on automated frequency coordination (AFC) development and implementation.

As part of its April 2020 rulemaking expanding access to the 6 GHz band, the FCC encouraged industry stakeholders representing both unlicensed and existing users to form a Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) to develop recommendations and technical protocols for protecting existing users from harmful interference (Industry Intelligence, April 27, 2020).

The MSG held its first meeting in late July; UTC and a coalition of public safety and critical infrastructure industries urged the FCC to ensure that this group truly represents all interests in this proceeding and that it addresses the critical issue of testing new devices to ensure existing users are protected.

Mr. Kilbourne will serve alongside representatives of both existing users of the 6 GHz band and proponents of expanding the band for Wi-Fi access. The other co-chairs include Don Root of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, Richard Bernhardt of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, and Edgar Figueroa of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Mr. Bender will serve as a co-chair of the AFC-development workstream with representatives of Charter Communications and Google.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Member News: Dominion Details Rural-Broadband Pilot Programs

Residents in rural parts of Virginia could gain access to broadband internet critical for jobs, healthcare, and education under three pilot projects proposed Oct. 1 by Dominion Energy Virginia.

Thanks to support from the Virginia General Assembly and collaboration with electric cooperatives and Internet Service Providers, the proposed Rural Broadband Pilot projects would extend broadband internet to citizens in Surry County, Botetourt County, and the Northern Neck, if approved by the State Corporation Commission. The proposal includes nearly 300 miles of middle-mile fiber and would cost approximately $29 million to construct.

“With so many Virginians working and learning from home due to COVID-19, access to reliable internet is an absolute necessity,” said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. “We hope these partnerships are the first of many, and we’re optimistic about how much these efforts could help communities here in our home state.”

More than 500,000 Virginians still live without easy access to high-speed internet. Extending broadband internet access would support economic development, social equity, public safety, educational opportunities, and healthcare services for citizens of the Commonwealth.

In rural areas, it’s not cost-effective for Internet Service Providers to lay the fiber necessary to reach less-populated communities with broadband internet. Dominion Energy is in a unique position to help bridge the digital gap. The company is installing new infrastructure as it moves forward with efforts to transform Virginia’s energy grid. In the pilots, Dominion Energy Virginia is leveraging this pathway value and enabling Internet Service Providers to create broadband access for currently unserved rural communities in Virginia.

A recent State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) report showed that nearly 20 percent of rural students lack broadband at home, compared to less than 10 percent of students living in urban areas. If approved, the pilot projects will help provide reliable internet for students learning virtually due to COVID-19. The pilots also will help enable access to telemedicine and other healthcare services for those in need.

The three proposed pilot projects are the first the company has brought forward under the Grid Transformation & Security Act of 2018 and legislation patroned by Del. Israel O’Quinn in 2019. They also align with Governor Northam’s $85 million proposal to expand access to broadband for unserved communities.

  • Surry County: Dominion Energy proposes to install 43 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure. The company has entered into a partnership with Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC)’s Internet Service Provider subsidiary, RURALBAND, to provide high-speed internet access to unserved residents in rural areas of Surry County.
  • Botetourt County: Dominion Energy proposes to install 34 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure, partnering with BARC Electric Cooperative and their BARC Connects Internet Service Provider to create access in unserved areas of Botetourt County.
  • Northern Neck: Dominion Energy proposes to install approximately 217 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure. All Points Broadband, Dominion Energy Virginia, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, and the counties of King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to advance a regional broadband partnership providing access to unserved households and business in the Northern Neck.

Cooperative Utilities Among Winners in USDA Broadband Funding

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week announced it is investing $1 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Indiana. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.

Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Corporation will use a $1 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 279 people, 10 businesses and 16 farms to high-speed broadband internet in Indiana’s Fountain County.

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.

On April 20, 2020, USDA announced the Department has received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with our partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for Round Two closed on April 15, 2020.

In Round One of the ReConnect Program, USDA invested $698 million to bring high-speed broadband e-Connectivity to approximately 167,000 households, 17,000 rural small businesses and farms, and more than 500 health care centers, educational facilities and critical community facilities located in 33 states. To learn more about individual investments, read USDA’s Broadband ReConnect Program report.

USDA received 11 Round Two ReConnect Program applications that are eligible for the $100 million Congress allocated to the program through the CARES Act.

To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

UTC Calendar of Events

Regional Meetings—All Virtual

Webinars

Calendar of UTC committee/division conference calls

Committee/Division calls

  • Oct. 13: UtiliSite Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Oct. 13: Knowledge & Learning Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Oct. 15: Public Policy Division Call–For more information, contact Rob Thormeyer
  • Oct. 15: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Oct. 16: Security, Risk, & Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Oct. 20: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Oct. 21: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart