September 24, 2018

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Utilities Dig Out, Make Progress on Service Restoration in Florence’s Wake

Electric, water, and gas utilities are still digging out from the wreckage left by Hurricane Florence, the powerful, long-lasting storm which battered the North and South Carolina coasts with strong winds and flooding rains for days.

At press time, national utility organizations reported that approximately 157,000 customers in the Southeast remained without electricity, a number which shrinks by the hour. Duke Energy, one of the hardest impacted utilities, expects to restore all of its customers by Sept. 26, though it anticipates the vast majority of those still in the dark will have service well in advance of that date.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Sept. 14 near Wilmington, N.C. The storm battered the region for more than three days before exiting the region earlier this week. More than 40,000 utility workers from all over the country are assisting in the restoration process (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 17, 2018).

According to the Department of Energy, the storm did not result in any significant damage to the gas and oil pipeline infrastructure in the region. Retail gasoline shortages have been reported in the region, however.

As electricity service is being restored, the same can be said for telecommunications service as well. Government and industry reports indicated that as of Wednesday, Sept. 19, 8% of cellular sites in North Carolina remain offline, including about 30% in the hardest hit counties of Columbus, Onslow, and Pender. In South Carolina, less than .5% of cellular sites are out of service, according to government and industry reports.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

New York Calls Draft FCC Small-Cell Plan ‘Patently Unlawful’

New York City officials claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) proposal to lower the costs and time for reviews of small-cellular devices is unlawful and should be withdrawn from consideration.

With the FCC set to act on its proposal to streamline the regulatory process for local officials to review small-cell devices at its Sept. 26 open meeting, the City of New York urged the Commission to remove the item from the agenda.

City officials made their request in a Sept. 18 ex-parte filing detailing meetings they had with FCC officials that same day. While City officials did not explicitly state their intention to sue the agency if it acts as anticipated, it called the proposal “patently unlawful.”

“The City conveyed its deep concerns about this and other matters including scarcity and demand for preferred sites and management thereof,” officials wrote. “The City conveyed its concerns about utilities and other demands for the rights of way, such as public safety. The City conveyed that the philosophical underpinnings of the order are misapplied, in the City’s strong view; the City made efforts to assert that cutting fees to enrich companies will not result in a speculative build.”

At issue is the FCC’s draft plan to remove regulations and reduce the costs for the wireless industry to deploy small-cell devices on municipally owned infrastructure, including utility poles. The draft would restrict the time local authorities have to review small-cell applications and reduce the filing fees authorities can charge for such a review (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 10, 2018).

According to media reports, several other municipalities have expressed similar concerns to the plan, including Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and San Jose, among others.

UTC has similar concerns with the proposal as well. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

FCC Bureau Clarifies Restrictions in 900 MHz Freeze

Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) staff late last week issued a clarification regarding the agency’s temporary freeze on additional licensing in the 900 MHz spectrum band.

Scot Stone, Deputy Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Mobility Division, clarified in a letter 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.”

“Locations may be added or changed if the new site does not increase the licensed contour,” Mr. Stone wrote.

Mr. Stone posted the letter almost a week after the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau placed a “temporary freeze” on additional licensing applications in the 900 MHz band (Industry Intelligence, Sept. 17, 2018).

As detailed in last week’s Industry Intelligence, UTC has significant concern about how the temporary freeze could impact utilities that operate systems in the 900 MHz band. 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.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

White House Launches ‘National Cybersecurity Strategy’

The White House late last week unveiled a National Cybersecurity Strategy to shore up and protect the nation’s population and most critical infrastructure from potential cyberattacks.

Released Thursday afternoon, the strategy consists of four pillars and builds off of an executive order the Trump Administration issued last May.

“Protecting America’s national security and promoting the prosperity of the American people are my top priorities,” the President wrote. “Ensuring the security of cyberspace is fundamental to both endeavors. Cyberspace is an integral component of all facets of American life, including our economy and defense. Yet, our private and public entities still struggle to secure their systems, and adversaries have increased the frequency and sophistication of their malicious cyber activities. America created the Internet and shared it with the world. Now, we must make sure to secure and preserve cyberspace for future generations.”

The strategy consists of four main pillars: Protecting American people and the homeland; Promoting American prosperity; Preserving peace through strength; and Advancing American influence abroad.

As it relates to UTC members, the plan seeks to protect the U.S. by securing federal networks and critical infrastructure, combatting cybercrime, and improving incident reporting. The plan commits to using a risk-management approach to mitigating cyber vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure owned by the private sector.

The plan commits the White House to clarify roles and responsibilities of the federal government and its expectations of the private sector, mainly through existing channels such as the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC). The government also says it will work with the industry to manage cyber risks to the private sector across seven areas: national security, energy and power, banking and finance, health and safety, communications, information technology, and transportation.

“To strengthen critical infrastructure security and resilience, [the Department of Homeland Security] works across government and industry to share timely and actionable information as well as provide training and incident response support,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson said. “Working with the private sector, the department’s newly launched National Risk Management Center is working collaboratively to break down silos, identify and prioritize national critical functions, provide a more holistic picture of the risk environment within and across sectors, and develop joint solutions to manage risk.”

UTC is still reviewing the National Cyber Strategy. UTC staff—including President & CEO Joy Ditto and Vice President of Government Affairs, Policy, and Cybersecurity Sharla Artz–participate in ESCC meetings and other public-private partnerships focused on cybersecurity issues.

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

Lawmakers, Regulators Push to Open 6 GHz Band, Urge Protection for Incumbents

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and regulators is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) to expand unlicensed access to the 6 GHz spectrum band, while somehow protecting incumbents already in the band.

In an op/ed published earlier this month in The Hill, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and FCC Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC should move ahead on expanding access in the 6 GHz band in order to meet growing demand for wireless communications networks.

Reps. Matsui and Guthrie co-chair the Congressional Spectrum Caucus.

“We recognize the need to allocate additional spectrum for consumer use to fully realize the world of connected devices, the Internet of Things, and next-generation networks,” the authors wrote. “The mix of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be necessary to provide consumers with access to the services of the future, ranging from streaming ultra-high definition videos to virtual reality and remote surgery.”

According to the authors, not enough spectrum is available to bring these possibilities to fruition. Although the agency has expanded access in several bands in recent years, more is needed, they said. The 6 GHz band—specifically 5.925-6.425 and 6.425-7.125 GHz bands—is suitable for these concepts and should be expanded for greater use, they wrote.

The authors note, though, that the 6 GHz band is already used by critical infrastructure providers like electric utilities, pipelines, and railroads. Steps must be taken to protect these incumbents from interference, they wrote.

“To be clear, existing users in the 6 GHz band must be sufficiently protected,” the authors wrote. “These users provide critical services ranging from public safety to the control and coordination of railroad operations, pipelines, and electric grids, satellite distribution, and broadcast and cable relay services. As it moves forward, the FCC should ensure an opportunity for existing users to provide valuable input on the protections they need.”

The FCC is expected address this issue with a rulemaking this fall. UTC has made this issue a top priority in its advocacy efforts in Washington. The UTC Board of Directors highlighted its concerns in its face-to-face meetings with lawmakers in July (Industry Intelligence, July 23, 2018).

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Senators Approve Limited Funding Measures, Though Threat of Shutdown Looms

U.S. senators last week approved a short-term budget deal to fund defense programs and several federal agencies through December, though the threats of a government shutdown by the end of September still loom.

Assuming the $850 billion deal passes the House, the deal—if signed by President Trump—would fund several government agencies through Dec. 7.

The legislation has been called a “minibus” because it only funds the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Congress has already approved similar measures for the Energy Department and related agencies in a separate package that is awaiting the President’s signature.

The term “minibus” refers to budget deals which address only a few agencies at a time, rather than a single “omnibus” package that would fund the entire government.

According to media reports, congressional leaders plan on tackling a third “minibus” package which would fund the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and financial and environmental agencies before the end of September.

At press time, however, the President indicated has not whether he will sign any of these packages due to concerns over border security funding.

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!
  • Sept. 26-28: EUTC Annual Conference, Malmo, Sweden; Registration Open Now!
  • 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