October 22, 2018

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Utilities Seek Reconsideration and Judicial Review of FCC August Pole-Attachment Order 

A coalition of utilities is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) to reconsider elements of its controversial August order on pole attachments, arguing that it could threaten public safety and only benefit the telecommunications industry.  

The utilities seeking reconsideration at the FCC —Arizona Public Service Company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Eversource, Exelon Corporation, FirstEnergy, South Carolina Electric & Gas, and the AES Corp.—filed their petition for reconsideration last week. The utilities seeking judicial review by the 11th Circuit include American Electric Power Service Corporation, CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, Duke Energy, Entergy, Oncor Electric Delivery Company, Southern Company, Tampa Electric Company, Virginia Electric and Power Company, and Xcel Energy Services Inc.   

The utilities are challenging the FCC’s Aug. 3 order which codified rules for one-touch make-ready and overlashing, and lowered attachment rates incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) would pay going forward for new attachments (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 6, 2018). 

In the petition for reconsideration that was filed with the FCC, the seven utilities claim the rules as approved raise concerns as they require insufficient safety requirements, threaten reliability, and do not actually reduce barriers to broadband deployment, which the FCC claims is its goal.  Specifically, the utilities challenged the Commission’s decision to establish a presumption that ILECs should be entitled to the same regulated rate as other attachers on the pole. The utilities also challenged the decision to allow communications attachers to resort to self-help to make attachments in the electric space of the pole. They also challenged the new rule that requires overlashing and prohibits them from denying access based upon pre-existing violations and from charging new attachers for the cost of correcting those pre-existing violations.   

“We urge the Commission to reconsider portions of its August 3 Order to better achieve the goals set out in the Order, to prevent one set of attachers from benefiting at the expense of the other, to prevent accidental deaths and injury, to safeguard the public, to protect the integrity of the electric distribution system, to reconcile newly-imposed regulations with other conflicting regulations and the Pole Attachment Act, to add efficiencies to speed deployment, and to eliminate unnecessary roadblocks to future broadband deployment,” the utilities wrote. 

Regarding public safety, the seven utilities urge the FCC to reconsider its decision to let a communications company manage the one-touch make-ready pole-attachment process. “Guidelines in the August 3 Order regarding contractor qualifications, notice to utilities, and the ability to post-inspect (without reimbursement) are all insufficient since ad hoc oversight of potentially hazardous electric space activity cannot ensure this work is performed safely,” the utilities wrote. “Self-help in the electric space is so objectionable that many utilities may need to divert resources currently performing non-mandatory electric space make-ready work, such as expanding capacity for communications attachers by replacing poles, just to ensure they have enough time to meet electric space make-ready deadlines and thereby eliminate the risk of losing control over their electric space facilities.” 

In addition to this petition, three others were filed by the following entities:  the City of New York, the County Road Association of Michigan, and the Smart Communities and Special Districts Coalition.  For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

FERC Approves Supply Chain Risk-Management Reliability Standards 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, the Commission) last week approved new mandatory reliability standards to bolster supply chain risk management protections for the nation’s bulk electric system.

According to the Commission, the new standards will augment current Critical Infrastructure Protection standards to mitigate cyber security risks associated with the supply chain for grid-related cyber systems.

The final rule closely follows what FERC outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in January 2018 (see Industry Intelligence, Jan. 22, 2018).

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) proposed the standards in response to FERC Order No. 829, which directed it to develop standards to address supply chain risk management for industrial control system hardware, software, and computing and networking services. The Commission notes that while the global supply chain provides opportunity for significant benefits to customers, it also presents opportunities to affect management or operations of generation or transmission companies that may result in risks to end-users.

In its final rule, FERC said NERC’s supply chain risk management Reliability Standards are forward-looking and objective-based, requiring each affected entity to develop and implement a plan that includes security controls for supply chain management for industrial control system hardware, software and services associated with bulk electric system operations.

The Commission also approved NERC’s request for an 18-month implementation period, saying it was justified because longer time-horizon capital budgets and planning cycles may be necessary for the technical upgrades to meet the Reliability Standards’ security objectives.

The Commission noted, however, that a significant cyber security risk remains because the standards exclude Electronic Access Control and Monitoring Systems (EACMS). EACMS include firewalls, authentication servers, security event monitoring systems, intrusion detection systems and alerting systems. They control electronic access into Electronic Security Perimeters and help protect high and medium impact bulk electric system (BES) cyber systems. Once an EACMS is compromised, an attacker could more easily control the BES cyber system or protected cyber asset.

Therefore, FERC gave NERC 24 months to develop modifications that will include EACMS associated with medium and high impact BES Cyber Systems within the scope of the supply chain risk management Reliability Standards.

The final rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

At press time, UTC has not yet fully reviewed the final rule. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions. 

UTC Seeks Clarification of FCC Freeze in 900 MHz Band 

UTC asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) to clarify that its decision last month to temporarily freeze additional licensing within the 900 MHz spectrum band does not apply to incumbent license holders in the band. 

In a petition for reconsideration or clarification last week, UTC said that such a clarification is necessary to protect incumbents while also limiting the potential for speculative applications in the 900 MHz band. 

At issue is a decision released last month by the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to place a temporary freeze on the acceptance of new or expanded use of services operating in the 900 MHz band effective immediately, noting that last August it initiated an inquiry proceeding to determine whether any rule changes in the band may be necessary (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 17, 2018).  

The agency later clarified that the freeze applies to “applications that seek to add or change locations … if the new location extends the station’s authorized interference contour in any direction” (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 24, 2018). 

In its petition, UTC urged the Commission to clarify that the freeze does not apply to incumbents. 

Such clarification “would effectively serve the purpose of the freeze by preserving the 900 MHz band and limiting the potential for speculative applications while the Commission considers possible rule changes affecting the band,” UTC wrote. “At the same time, it would enable utilities and other incumbent licensees with legitimate needs for the spectrum to continue to upgrade their networks, thereby ensuring reliable communications and avoiding stranded investment that is currently being made in the band.” 

Doing so “would fairly balance the need to preserve the spectrum environment while still allowing incumbent licensees and their affiliates to upgrade and expand their existing systems and to build new systems necessary to support recently acquired utility service territories,” UTC said. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in response to questioning during a recent congressional hearing, indicated that the Commission will act on the 900 MHz proposal within the next few months. UTC’s Board of Directors approved a resolution during the Board’s July meeting in Washington on “Providing Utilities Broadband Spectrum While Protecting Incumbents in the 900 MHz Spectrum Band.” The resolution was approved by the Public Policy Division in late June. 

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions. 

Electricity Restored to More Than 95% of Areas Slammed by Hurricane Michael 

Less than a week after Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida panhandle and parts of the Southeast, more than 95% of electricity service has been restored to the more than 2.5 million customers impacted by the storm, according to government and industry reports. 

At press time (Friday, 11 A.M. Eastern), government and industry reports indicated that approximately 140,000 customers remained in the dark, with the majority located in the hardest hit areas located in the Florida panhandle. It is unclear when service will be restored in those locations, industry and government reports state, in part because of severely damaged homes and equipment that cannot receive power at this time. 

According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), tens of thousands of utility crews from numerous states remain hard at work in these areas. In the most heavily damaged areas, affected electric companies continue to concentrate their efforts and resources on rebuilding the energy grid from the ground up, EEI reported. The most severe damage to infrastructure, requiring the most extensive rebuild and restoration work, is in the Florida Panhandle, where workers face catastrophic damage and challenging conditions. Some customers may not be able to receive electricity even after this work is done and power is restored because of damage to their homes. 

“Although this is never a surprise, I remain extremely grateful for and inspired by the commitment and dedication within the electric utility industry to come together in times of crisis,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “Time and time again, this industry demonstrates to the nation its determination to work together and restore essential electricity service, no matter the situation. There will always be lessons learned, particularly when faced with a storm as devastating as Hurricane Michael. But our industry, like no other, comes together and supports each other during these most difficult times. Thank you to those still working diligently in the Florida panhandle.” 

Meanwhile, the telecommunications industry has come under fire for its restoration of service after Hurricane Michael. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has publicly criticized the industry, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said his agency will conduct an investigation into what happened. 

“Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Chairman Pai said. “While the FCC has been in regular contact with companies serving the affected areas, I’m concerned that their actions on the ground aren’t matching the urgency that we have conveyed during those conversations. I am therefore joining Governor Scott in calling on wireless carriers to waive the bills of Floridians in these affected areas for the month of October and to allow them to change carriers without penalty. These carriers also need to immediately disclose publicly to Floridians how they will quickly restore service. In addition, I have directed our Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau to promptly initiate an investigation into this matter.”   

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Committee Focus—Public Policy Division! 

Editor’s Note: Below is our second Committee Focus article in Industry Intelligence! Our goal is to regularly highlight different UTC committees so our members can get a better idea of how important our committees are to the Association and how to get involved. 

Are you interested in public policy? Do you want to help influence UTC’s advocacy in Washington? Will the latest rulemakings and orders from the Federal Communications Commission impact your job? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you are a prime candidate to join UTC’s Public Policy Division (PPD)! 

Chaired by Dewey Day, Principal OT Architect with the Enterprise Architecture & Strategy division of Pacific Gas & Electric, the Public Policy Division is the locus of UTC’s advocacy activity. Through monthly conference calls, a monthly newsletter, and frequent email updates, PPD keeps tabs on the latest developments out from Washington and distills the most relevant information for UTC members. 

If you want to know about the latest Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy on spectrum allocation, pole attachments, 5G, and small cells, PPD is the place for you. If you are interested in breaking down the silos between the FCC and other federal entities, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), PPD is the place for you. If you want to weigh in on potential UTC filings or other advocacy efforts in Washington, PPD is the place for you. 

Additionally, PPD oversees and manages the UTC policy resolution process. This process allows UTC members to set the Association’s policy positions on various issues before the FCC, FERC, Congress, and elsewhere. Every year at UTC’s annual Telecom & Technology conference, UTC members vote on draft resolutions that, if approved, become the Association’s official positions. 

PPD membership is open to any UTC member. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions or to join.   

Upcoming Events

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

  • Oct. 23: Webinar, Telecom 101; Registration info available here 
  • Nov. 13: UtiliSite Committee Call; for more information, contact Bobbi Harris  
  • Nov. 15: Telecom Committee Call; for more information, contact Brett Kilbourne 
  • Nov. 15: Public Policy Division Call; for more information, contact Sharla Artz 
  • Nov. 16: Security, Risk, & Compliance Committee Webinar, for more information, contact Sharla Artz  
  • Nov. 20: Utilities Broadband Committee Call; for more information, contact Brett Kilbourne 
  • Nov. 21: IT/OT Committee Call; for more information, contact Bob Lockhart