October 29, 2018

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UTC Issues Call-to-Action as FCC Proposes Opening Up 6 GHz Band  

UTC is urging its member utilities with licenses in the 6 GHz band to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) proceeding into opening the band up for unlicensed use. Importantly, UTC is asking our members with licenses in the band to supply us with any information or data that would support the comments we will be filing. 

The FCC at its Oct. 23 open meeting released a proposed rule that would expand access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, particularly to enable expansion of Wi-Fi networks. UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto raised considerable concerns about the proposal (see related story). 

UTC members adopted a resolution at May their 2018 Telecom & Technology meeting opposing the Commission’s decision in January 2017 to grant a waiver allowing mobile use within the band. This proposed rulemaking, if adopted as is, would clearly pose even greater challenges to incumbent utility users in the band. 

To that end, as UTC prepares to respond to this proposal, we are asking our members with licenses in the band to supply us with any information or data that could help support our contention that unlicensed access into the 6 GHz band could interfere with utility networks, and what such interference means. 

Additionally, if your utility is participating in the rulemaking process, please let us know. 

This is a top priority for the UTC Public Policy Team. We look forward to working with you on this.

Please contact the Public Policy Team with any questions.  

FCC Moves Ahead on 6 GHz Rulemaking; UTC Opposes Unlicensed Use of the Band  

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) last week unanimously adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking to allow unlicensed use of the 6 GHz spectrum band. 

In response, UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto expressed the Association’s opposition to unlicensed use of the band over concerns that doing so will likely impact critical utility communications networks. 

“Electricity is essential to deployment of telecommunications and, in fact, any modern device or machine,” Ms. Ditto said. “Rather than negatively impact utility operations which, in turn, impacts all other facets of the economy, we urge the FCC to rethink their proposal. We look forward to raising these concerns with the Commission. We are confident the record will demonstrate that the risks to utility and other CII networks is too great, and that there are other spectrum bands more suitable to achieve the Commission’s goals.” 

The FCC adopted the proposed rulemaking at its Oct. 23 open meeting.  

According to a press release, the FCC said its proposal would make up to 1200 megahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices in the 6 GHz band (5.925-7.125 GHz). The press release stated that the proposal would create an “automated frequency coordination system” to prevent interference. The proposal “invites comment as to whether this is necessary for devices operated only indoors.” 

UTC has strongly opposed efforts to expand access to the 6 GHz band and will file comments and other evidence in the proceeding. UTC has issued a call-to-action to its members to participate in the proceeding as well (see related story).  

Ms. Ditto said that many utilities use the band for mission-critical communications, and these needs must be taken into consideration.  

“Many of our nation’s electric, gas and water utilities rely on the 6 GHz spectrum band to underpin the reliable delivery of energy and water services to homes and businesses all over the country,” she said. “Utilities use the 6 GHz band for their communications networks that support day-to-day, routine reliability, emergency response, storm restoration, and, increasingly for electric utilities, new technologies such as smart meters and integration of distributed energy resources. The 6 GHz band provides utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII) with the high-speed, long distance wireless communications required for these essential services. 

“Today, the FCC initiated a rulemaking to expand access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use. Although we understand the need for expanded wireless broadband, the risk of radio frequency interference to utilities’ mission-critical networks outweighs the potential benefits from unlicensed use of the band. We are greatly concerned that the proposed rulemaking as drafted would not sufficiently mitigate potential interference to utility systems from these new unlicensed operations. 

“The 6 GHz band is already heavily used by utilities and other CII and is uniquely suited for these vital communications systems. In fact, there appear to be no other reasonable alternative bands for utilities to use. By contrast, there are many other bands that could be used for unlicensed, non-critical commercial operations; indeed, the Commission has already opened up additional spectrum for unlicensed operations in other bands that have yet to be used to their full potential. At the same time, the FCC has not yet opened up any new bands for CII use. In fact, many utilities were forced to migrate to the 6 GHz band because the FCC reallocated other spectrum bands that utilities and other CII were already using for critical systems.” 

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.  

White House Unveils ‘National Spectrum Policy’ Strategy 

The White House last week called on federal agencies, led by the Department of Commerce, to develop a so-called “National Spectrum Policy” that the Administration says will make the U.S. a leader in wireless development. 

The strategy, released on Oct. 25, directs the Secretary of Commerce to work with other agencies to guide the country’s spectrum polices going forward. As part of the strategy, the government is creating a Spectrum Strategy Task Force. The White House is also requiring the Secretary of Commerce to report annually to the President on efforts to “repurpose spectrum for more efficient and effective use.” 

UTC is still reviewing the strategy and will report to its members with its analysis in the coming weeks. At first blush, the strategy could be helpful to UTC’s efforts to make more efficient use of the 406-420 MHz band, which is currently reserved for federal use. But there is also a very heavy emphasis on making spectrum available for 5G, and Federal Communications Commission Members Brendan Carr, Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel, as well as House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), issued supportive statements about the need for 5G spectrum. 

Under the strategy, federal agencies are required to report back to the White House regarding their current and anticipated spectrum needs to ensure the government has the spectrum required for its mission. Additionally, the President called for a report on how new technologies will impact spectrum supply, with a particular focus on job creation. 

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions. 

FERC’s Chatterjee Named Chairman After McIntyre Steps Down Due to Health Issues 

The White House last week named Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, the Commission) Member Neil Chatterjee to lead the agency after former Chairman Kevin McIntyre stepped down from the position due to ongoing health concerns. 

Chairman Chatterjee is serving his second stint in the leadership position, having served as Acting Chairman from August 2017-December 2017, when former Chairman McIntyre was sworn into office. 

In an Oct. 24 letter to President Trump, Chairman McIntyre detailed ongoing health issues, including a brain tumor diagnosed shortly after his nomination last summer. Although he continued serving as Chairman, a recent setback has forced him to relinquish his duties and focus on his health. He will remain on the agency as a Commissioner, he said. 

Chairman Chatterjee was reappointed to the top spot shortly after Commissioner McIntyre released his letter. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I step into this role while my friend and colleague, Kevin McIntyre, focuses on what’s most important: his recovery and his family,” Chairman Chatterjee said. “I am confident that the Commission will continue to benefit from his consummate knowledge of the law and of energy policy through his service as Commissioner. On behalf of the entire FERC community, I wish Kevin and the McIntyre family continued strength and resolve at this challenging time.” 

Chairman Chatterjee is well versed in UTC’s policy issues. He spoke at the May 2018 Telecom & Technology conference and has met with UTC’s Public Policy Team on multiple occasions.  

UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto wished Commissioner McIntyre well and said she looks forward to working with Chairman Chatterjee in his new position. “My thoughts and prayers are with Commissioner McIntyre during this difficult time,” Ms. Ditto said. “Godspeed to him and his family. UTC looks forward to working with Chairman Chatterjee and his colleagues”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions. 

FCC Approves Changes to 3.5 GHz Band; Order Deemed a ‘Lost Opportunity’ 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) last week made substantial changes to the rules governing the 3.5 GHz spectrum band over the objections of a diverse coalition of economic interests. 

At its Oct. 23 open meeting, the FCC adopted an order sponsored by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly that modifies the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band. The FCC claims such action will promote additional investment and encourage broader deployment in the band, ensure that Commission rules keep up with technological advancements, and help to maintain U.S. leadership in the deployment of next-generation services, including 5G. 

The FCC only recently in 2015 established rules to facilitate shared access between federal and non-federal use of the 3.5 GHz band. It created a three-tiered framework of users consisting of Incumbents, Priority Access Licenses (PALs), and General Authorized Access (GAA) users. In its order, the FCC drastically alters the size and terms of these licenses, making it difficult for utilities and other critical infrastructure industries to acquire them. 

Specifically, the FCC order:  

  • Changes the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties.
  • Extends the PAL license term to ten years and makes these licenses renewable.
  • Establishes end-of-term performance requirements. 
  • Ensures seven PALs are available in each license area. 
  • Allows the use of bidding credits for rural and Tribal entities. 
  • Permits partitioning and disaggregation of PALs.
  • Updates information security requirements to protect registration information. 
  • Facilitates transmission over wider channels while maintaining protections for other services. 

UTC participated in a broad stakeholder group called the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Coalition to push against many of these changes, most of which were supported by the telecommunications industry. UTC is still reviewing the final order. 

The order was not unanimous as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called it a “lost opportunity” for advances in industrial efficiencies and intelligent manufacturing. “This is a lost opportunity. In our effort to reach a messy compromise, we’ve created a band that is not well suited to the services of today and offers too few opportunities for the services of tomorrow,” she said. “This is like being at the dawn of the Uber age and doubling down on taxi medallions. It’s at odds with the experimentation that spectrum policy needs for a successful future—and it lacks the audacity that has been a powerful part of our wireless success in the past.” 

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions. 

Upcoming Events

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

  • 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