September 17, 2018

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Utilities Partner Up to Respond as Florence Bears Down on the Southeastern U.S. Coast 

Tens of thousands of utility workers are on the ground to help repair and restore utility infrastructure in the Carolinas following the devastation left by Hurricane Florence. 

At press time, it was difficult to quantify the damage and exact number of power outages, given the storm’s unusual, slow path. But with utility crews coming in from all over the country, the utility industry is demonstrating again its criticality and ability to respond to ferocious storms. 

“As always, I am in awe of how our industry responds to these events,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “Our utilities may be incredibly diverse in ownership, business model, and service territory, but we all share the same common goal—to provide safe and reliable utility services. When things look to be at their worst, that’s when we are at our best – linking arms to restore service even if it means being away from family and friends for days and weeks at a time. Thank you, and to those in harm’s way, Godspeed.” 

According to the Edison Electric Institute, more than 40,000 utility workers from 17 states were being dispatched to the hurricane-damaged areas to begin the restoration process when safe to do so. These workers represent investor-owned utilities, public power, and rural cooperatives. Depending on the severity of the damage, more crews are on standby. 

“These utility crews are able to communicate with each other in these dire circumstances thanks to the hardened Information and Communications Technology (ICT) networks owned, built, and maintained by the utilities themselves,” Ms. Ditto noted. “This kind of massive restoration effort demonstrates, once again, just how important and resilient these private ICT networks are,” she said. “These networks enable utilities to more efficiently prioritize and repair their infrastructure.” 

Additionally, the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council is holding regular meetings with federal, state, and local officials to provide oversight of restoration plans.  

At press time, utility and media reports estimated that the storm had knocked out power to 1-3 million people, according to media reports. Restoration efforts have started in locations where winds have subsided. For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

FCC Wireless Bureau Imposes Temporary ‘Freeze’ on New Licenses, Adjustments in 900 MHz Band  

The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) last week placed a “temporary freeze” on additional licensing in the 900 MHz spectrum band, an indication that the agency is likely to proceed with a rulemaking proceeding that will consider whether to realign the band to support a broadband block of spectrum. 

In a Sept. 13 notice, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau said it imposed the 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. 

“The purpose of this freeze is to preserve the current landscape of authorized operations in the 900 MHz band pending Commission action as part of its ongoing inquiry into potential rule changes to promote next-generation technologies and services in the band,” the Bureau said. 

The Bureau said the freeze applies to the following radio services in the 900 MHz band: Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT), Conventional, 900 MHz Specialized Mobile Radio, Site-Specific, Conventional, 900 MHz Business, Conventional, 900 MHz I/LT, Trunked, and 900 MHz Business, Trunked. 

Additionally, the Bureau said that during the freeze, it will not accept “(1) applications for new licenses; (2) applications that seek to modify existing licenses by adding or changing frequencies or locations; (3) applications that seek to modify existing licenses by changing technical parameters in a manner that expands the station’s spectral or geographic footprint, such as, but not limited to, increases in bandwidth, power level, antenna height, or area of operation; and (4) any other application that could increase the degree to which the 900 MHz band currently is licensed.” 

UTC is concerned about the impact that the freeze will have on utilities that operate systems in the 900 MHz band. Specifically, the freeze will likely prevent utilities from expanding the coverage and capacity of their 900 MHz systems, which in turn strands investment in and undermines the reliability of those systems that are used for mission-critical voice and data communications, UTC Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Brett Kilbourne said. Furthermore, it’s unclear what the FCC means by “temporary.” In 2004, the FCC imposed a freeze on 900 MHz licensing that was designed to preserve capacity that might be needed to facilitate 800 MHz rebanding. That freeze ultimately lasted until 2013.  

It is also an indication that the agency is likely to proceed with a rulemaking to realign the band, Mr. Kilbourne added. 

Indeed, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated this summer during a congressional hearing that the agency was likely to act on the 900 MHz band this fall. As a reminder, the UTC Board of Directors recently adopted a resolution on the potential for realigning the 900 MHz band. The resolution notes that UTC is supportive of efforts to promote utility access to broadband spectrum below 1 GHz. It also asks the FCC to protect utility incumbents who are already in the 900 MHz band. 

For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team. 

Cybersecurity, Risk Management Top Agenda at NERC Committee Meetings 

Hundreds of industry representatives, including UTC, convened in Minneapolis last week to discuss ongoing bulk power system reliability issues such as cybersecurity, system planning, and operational enhancements. 

The discussions were part of the quarterly meeting of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) standing committees.  

UTC Vice President of Government Affairs, Policy and Cybersecurity Sharla Artz attended the event. 

Participants heard updates on the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) research project, supply chain standard guidance, and ongoing work on Interconnection Reliability Operating Limits (IROLS). Representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security all highlighted collaborative efforts between the government and industry including activities related to the newly formed National Risk Management Center at DHS and the upcoming Liberty Eclipse exercise DOE will be hosting shortly. 

Additionally, NERC’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Committee (CIPC) heard from Great River Energy Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jim Jones, who discussed their work on the security and reliability of their grid. Mark Meason of Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and a former UTC Security, Risk and Compliance Committee Chair, provided training on Low-Asset Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standards compliance and urged entities that have not started their compliance efforts on their Low Assets should do so as soon as possible. 

In addition to the standing committees, the GridEx Working Group, which is responsible for planning the next GridEx in 2019, met to advance preparations for the next nation-wide exercise, which tests the resilience of the bulk power system and consists of thousands of participants from both government and industry. A major lesson learned from the last GridEx was the importance of reliable communications systems for recovery efforts.  

The next meeting of the standing committees will occur Dec. 11 -12 in Atlanta. During this meeting, CIPC members will get a classified briefing from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government partners.  

Please contact the UTC Security, Risk, and Compliance Team with any questions. 

UTC Urges Federal Agency to Set High Bar in Funding Rural Broadband Programs 

A new federal program to support rural broadband must target areas in most need and result in sound programs and technologies that do not become obsolete, UTC said. 

In comments filed last week with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, UTC noted that rural utilities have been providing broadband service for years to unserved areas with strong subscription rates. These strong numbers prove that consumers in rural America want broadband and will eagerly subscribe if such services are available, UTC said. 

“Utilities that have deployed broadband networks to provide broadband services in rural America report very high consumer adoption rates in some areas,” UTC said. “UTC believes that consumer adoption is in response to the low prices and high quality of the services that utilities are providing. Simply put, consumers will buy broadband that provides high-quality service at low prices.” 

At issue is the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) e-Connectivity Pilot Program, which stems from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, legislation signed into law by the President in March 2018. Under the Act, Congress appropriated $600 million in budget authority to be operated under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 on an expedited basis. RUS in late July sought comments on the program. 

According to RUS, the pilot program was directed to expedite loans and grants for the costs of the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in eligible rural areas. Those areas are defined as having at least 90 percent of the households without sufficient access to broadband, defined as 10 Mbps downstream, and 1 Mbps upstream (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 20, 2018). 

UTC urged the agency to set a high bar when allocating funds. Broadband services with speeds of 10/1 Mbps are too slow to be considered for this program, UTC said. Instead, services should be at least 25/3 Mbps, along with higher capacities for consumer data and latency, UTC said. These are the factors the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used for its recent Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction, UTC noted (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 10, 2018). 

“Higher speeds, greater capacity and lower latency all contribute towards the potential for economic development, compared to technologies that lack these capabilities,” UTC wrote. “All other things being equal, the more robust the broadband network the more likely it is that it will attract investment and promote economic development in rural communities. Broadband networks that are funded under the eConnectivity Pilot program should be sufficiently robust to support the applications that are driving the internet today: streaming video, industrial internet of things (IIOT), small office/home office/telecommuting, and telemedicine/remote health care.” 

For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.

Committee Focus: Knowledge & Learning! 

Editor’s Note: As we have been previewing the last several weeks, below is our first 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. This issue’s feature is on the Knowledge and Learning Division! 

The Knowledge and Learning Division works closely with UTC members and staff to create and maintain a comprehensive repository of content across UTC. This committee serves as the lead in formulating education and learning tracks for the UTC Telecom & Technology annual conference, education subject matter for regional and other national face-to-face meeting opportunities, and formulating the UTC Journal quarterly themes from industry hot topics.  

Currently, the division has finalized the UTC Journal editorial calendar for 2019. The quarterly themes are: The Living Grid, Water, The State of the Utility, and New Frontiers. These titles are expanded upon in our media planner, which available online. Previous issues of the UTC Journal can be accessed here. For more information or to submit an article for consideration please contact committee liaisons Bobbi Harris or Atossa Shafaie. 

Planning for the educational tracks at UTC Telecom & Technology 2019 in Fort Worth, Tex., are also well under way. The call for presentations has been closed, topics have been collected the selection process has begun. There have also been discussions surrounding a refresh of the event schedule, details coming soon!  

Fall also brings with it a relaunch of the UTC NetWorks platform. A new look, easier interface and broader purpose will make NetWorks an even stronger tool for our membership. The members spoke, and we listened. Our new NetWorks site will be an easy to navigate one stop resource for everything UTC!  

 On the research front, Paul Lambert and Bob Lockhart have been working hard to publish an OPGW research paper which tackles how significantly age contributes to OPGW failure rates. This report will be available soon!  

For more information about the Knowledge and Learning Division, or to join the team, contact Bobbi Harris.   

Upcoming Events

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

  • Regional Meetings! Click here for a list of the fall regional meetings! 
  • Sept. 18: Utilities Broadband Committee Call; for more information, contact Brett Kilbourne 
  • Sept. 19: IT/OT Committee Call; for more information, contact Bob Lockhart 
  • Sept. 20: Public Policy Division Call; for more information, contact Sharla Artz 
  • Sept. 26-28: EUTC Annual Conference, Malmo, Sweden; Registration Open Now!