September 9, 2019

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Energy Department Urges FCC to Test 6 GHz Mitigation Measures

The Department of Energy (DOE), in response last week to a letter sent by UTC and other utility organizations, told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it shares concerns regarding the FCC’s proposal to open the 6 GHz spectrum band to unlicensed use.

Assistant Secretary for Electricity Bruce Walker, in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, expressed DOE’s apprehensions about the FCC’s proposed interference mitigation measures in the 6 GHz proceeding and indicated its desire to use the national labs to test the proposals. DOE sent similar letters to the Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

DOE urged the FCC to either look to other bands for public WiFi needs or to set aside dedicated spectrum for the water and utility industries, along with appropriate funding to make that happen.

“It is also important to note that America’s energy and water industries do not currently have any cost effective, readily achievable alternatives to the 6 GHz band if the FCC proceeds with the existing proposal and damaging signal interference is realized,” Assistant Secretary Walker wrote. “DOE believes it is prudent to investigate a long-term solution for dedicated spectrum for our critical infrastructure users in the energy and water sectors. This is necessary with the anticipated significant expansion of WiFi usage and the potential for near and long term spectrum interference in the 6 GHz band.”

UTC led the development of a letter signed by leadership from the Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, American Water Works Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Nuclear Energy Institute to Energy Secretary Rick Perry in July. The letter encouraged the agency to intervene in the FCC’s 6 GHz proceeding (Industry Intelligence, July 22, 2019).

The DOE letter also indicated that the FCC could establish dedicated spectrum for the energy and water industries, a proposal not suggested by UTC and the other entities but one that has been suggested in years past.

In a statement, UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto applauded DOE’s response.

“We greatly appreciate the Department of Energy’s willingness to engage with the Federal Communications Commission,” Ms. Ditto said. “As the Energy Department pointed out, electric, water, and natural gas utilities have built strong and resilient communications networks to support reliability functions. Many of these systems use licensed spectrum in the 6 GHz band for mission-critical wireless communications. The Energy Department correctly notes that the FCC’s proposal to allow unlicensed use of the 6 GHz spectrum band puts these utility systems at risk. In particular, we appreciate the Energy Department’s offer to use the national labs as a venue to test and prove that the FCC’s proposed mechanism to protect utility wireless communications systems located in the band from interference works as intended. We hope the FCC will heed the advice and caution from their federal counterparts.”

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Electricity Trade Groups Ask Energy Regulators to Intervene in FCC’s 6 GHz Proceeding

UTC, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay its controversial 6 GHz proceeding until it has tested and demonstrated that interference-mitigation measures will protect utilities and other critical-infrastructure industry incumbents in the band.

The entities made the filing in response to FERC’s June 27 annual Reliability Technical Conference, which featured a panel discussion on utility communications issues. During the conference, the FCC’s proposal to allow unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band was discussed, and individual commissioners questioned whether FERC should intervene in the proceeding (Industry Intelligence, July 1, 2019). UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto participated in the June 27 conference.

In the joint comments, EEI, NRECA, and UTC reviewed the critical communications functions that are housed in the 6 GHz microwave band. These systems are essential for grid reliability and resilience, the comments reiterated.

This is why FERC should intervene, the entities said. “Interference to an electric company relying on 6 GHz microwave systems could result in outages on the grid, if the 6 GHz spectrum it uses becomes unreliable due to interference from unlicensed devices,” the comments said. “Thus, if communications are lost or degraded, an electric company’s ability to monitor and control electric service could be compromised, potentially impacting an area beyond the company’s service territory. Because proposed unlicensed use would occur primarily on the same platforms that carry the network backhaul, the electric power industry is concerned that the likelihood of interference with these communications is unacceptably high.”

UTC filed a separate statement to amplify the statements Ms. Ditto made in the technical conference. The UTC comments note that two FERC commissioners—Commissioners Richard Glick and Bernard McNamee—questioned whether the Commission should indeed intervene.

“As Commissioner McNamee stated, what the FCC considers tolerable as it relates to interference and what this Commission and the electric industry consider tolerable appear to be two different things,” UTC said. “UTC believes FERC should intervene and urge the FCC to delay final action until those differences can be bridged. Moreover, FERC is the expert agency on matters affecting electric reliability and it has a direct interest in the FCC’s proceeding and its potential impact on electric reliability.”

In addition, the American Public Power Association and Large Public Power Council filed their own remarks echoing the call for FERC to intervene with the FCC’s proceeding. UTC and EEI core utility member Alliant made similar statements in their comments to FERC as well.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

FCC Tees Up Action on 3.5 GHz Spectrum Auction

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency will vote later this month on a plan to make 70 MHz of spectrum available in the 3.5 GHz band.

Last October the agency rewrote rules that had been adopted in 2015 to realign the band for spectrum-sharing opportunities for mobile broadband in the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The FCC, despite objections from utilities and other major critical-infrastructure industries (CII), expanded the size of the priority access licenses (PALs) to make them more attractive to larger telecommunications firms (Industry Intelligence, Oct. 29, 2018).

In a blog post last week, Chairman Pai said the agency will vote out a plan at its Sept. 26 meeting to seek comments on draft procedures for an auction of 70 MHz of spectrum in the band.

Despite the FCC’s decision last year to tilt the 3.5 GHz band licensing rules to favor the telecommunications industry, several utilities are still interested in participating in the auction. UTC will have more details when the FCC moves forward.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

FCC Sets Comment Deadline for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission last month published its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund proposal in the Federal Register; comments on the proposed rule are due on Sept. 20, with reply comments due Oct. 21.

The FCC on Aug. 2 proposed to create the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion funding program to expand broadband in unserved rural areas (Industry Intelligence, Aug. 5, 2019).

UTC is in the process of developing our comments on the proposal. UTC played a key role in preserving the opportunities for utilities to compete for the CAFII funding, and the FCC is now actively encouraging utilities to participate in this latest auction, which includes more grant funding.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy team with questions.

NTIA Releases First Spectrum Repurposing Report

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) last week released their first annual report on repurposing U.S. spectrum to meet future commercial and federal needs.

According to the report, the U.S. is working to more than double the radio spectrum available for the next generation of wireless network technology.

The report fulfills a requirement in the Oct. 25, 2018, Presidential Memorandum (PM), “Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future,” which set policies for optimizing spectrum resources to advance U.S. leadership in 5G, space commerce and other emerging technologies (Industry Intelligence, Oct. 29, 2018).

Under the PM, NTIA is leading the effort to craft and implement a national spectrum strategy. Additionally, NTIA has asked federal agencies to review their current spectrum frequency needs, concentrating initially on two specific bands: 3100-3550 MHz and 7125-8400 MHz, with responses due over the next nine months. Federal agencies also have prepared reports on their future spectrum needs over the next 15 years as NTIA builds a system for the continued reporting of federal requirements and spectrum usage.

The spectrum repurposing report shows that the United States leads the world in spectrum that could be used for 5G, with a total of nearly 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) available for licensed, exclusive use, NTIA said. An additional 7.25 GHz of potential licensed spectrum is under active study, which could ultimately yield over 13 GHz that could be available for licensed 5G networks. For unlicensed use, 14.7 GHz has been made available, with more on the way, according to the report.

Comprehensive band-by-band spectrum updates in the repurposing report extend from 512 megahertz (MHz) to 246 gigahertz (GHz). The report looks at 24 categories of frequency bands and lists the status of activities including economic benefits from auctions, and bands under study and targeted for future action. The report also notes past and current regulatory and legislative mandates for the bands.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC CALENDAR OF EVENTS

*NOTE: UTC issued a Call for Proposals for the May 2020 Telecom & Technology Annual Conference! Got a great idea for a panel? Let us know by Sept. 30!

  • Sept. 12-13: Region 4 Meeting; Grand Rapids, MI – Click Here
  • Sept. 16-19: Region 5 Meeting; Lacrosse, WI – Click Here
  • Oct. 2-4: Region 3 Meeting; Mobile, AL – Click Here
  • Oct. 10-11: Region 10 Meeting; Las Vegas – Click Here
  • Oct. 16-18: Power Grid 4.0 Digitalization Forum, Monréal, Canada – For more information – Click Here
  • Nov. 5-7: UTC 5G, Broadband & Small Cells Workshop, Nashville – Click Here
  • May 18-22, 2020: Telecom & Technology Annual Meeting, Providence, RI – Click Here

CONFERENCE CALLS/WEBINARS!

  • Sept. 10: Knowledge and Learning Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Sept. 17: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Sept. 18: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • Sept. 19: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • Sept. 19: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • Sept. 20: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz