Since 1948, UTC has been the industry source and resource on matters affecting the communications and information technology interests of the nation’s electric, gas and water utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII). Its members include large investor-owned utilities, and smaller rural cooperative and municipal utilities, as well as oil and gas pipeline companies. All of UTCs members own, maintain and operate extensive communications networks that support the safe, reliable and effective delivery of essential energy and water services to millions of American homes and businesses. That is why UTC advocates for policies that protect and promote the development of utility communications networks and information technology systems.
UTC believes we need to promote utility spectrum access and utility innovation as part of integrated policies for safe, clean, and secure energy, water and gas services, which are essential to improving U.S. economic productivity, enhancing our quality of life, protecting our environment and ensuring our Nation’s security.
Utilities and other CII face increasing demands for wireless communications in order to support smart grid and cybersecurity requirements. They lack access to sufficient and suitable RF spectrum to meet their increasing communications needs. At the same time, they face challenges affecting their existing wireless communications systems, due to interference and congestion, as well as reallocation of radiofrequency spectrum by the FCC. UTC is working to promote access to sufficient and suitable spectrum to meet the increasing communications needs of utilities and other CII, and to protect their existing communications networks against threats to their operational reliability, safety and security.
Access to spectrum for critical infrastructure remains a highest priority, and in 2017, UTC made significant progress on this important program of work. Click each + below to read more:
UTC is the recognized voice of utility issues regarding participation in the FirstNet deployment program.
FirstNet and the 700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network. UTC urges FirstNet to share the 700 MHz Public Safety Broadband Network with utilities, which could accelerate the deployment of the network, particularly in rural areas, and which could create synergies that would enhance the reliability and promote the economic sustainability of the network going forward. Despite these clear public interest benefits, there is uncertainty regarding utility priority access to the network, which discourages utility investment and participation in the network. Hence, UTC urges FirstNet to provide utilities with priority access in order to promote utility investment and partnerships with public safety, which will accelerate network deployment and promote ongoing sustainability and reliability.
UTC created a 900 MHz Working Group and organized industry comments to the FCC. This effort is ongoing and we encourage member participation in the 900 MHz Working Group.
Some of the pending proceedings at the FCC include:
900 MHz Realignment. The FCC is considering a petition to realign the 900 MHz band, which many utilities use for voice and data communications to support mission critical applications that affect operational safety and reliability. The proposed realignment would create a broadband block of spectrum in the band. While this could provide broadband spectrum which utilities need, it also threatens to cause interference to incumbent utility networks and would force them to relocate and operate on other frequencies, which could disrupt communications, impair reliability and impose significant capital and operational costs on utilities. On balance, the threat to utility systems in the band would outweigh the potential benefits for utilities and other CII, and UTC urges the FCC to ensure that utility systems are protected as part of any potential realignment of the band.
Commercial Use of Private 900 MHz Channels. The FCC is considering a petition seeking to eliminate restrictions in the rules that prevent entities from applying to use private 900 MHz channels for commercial services. Here, the petition is proposing to provide machine-to-machine (M2M) services for smart grid and other applications. UTC opposes this petition because it threatens to deplete the availability of channels for use by utilities for private wireless communications.
3.5 GHz Band. The FCC has issued an Order that finalizes the rules for the 3.5 GHz band, and it also has issued a Public Notice inviting comment on the size of the Grandfathered Wireless Protection Zones for incumbent systems – including many by utilities – in the 3.65 GHz part of the band. The 3.5 GHz band represents access to an additional 100 MHz of spectrum for utilities, which will be licensed on a Priority Access License (PAL) and Generally Authorized Access (GAA) basis. At the same time, the inclusion of GAA operations in the 3.65 GHz part of the band threatens to cause harmful interference to incumbent systems, many of which are operated by utilities. UTC’s position is to promote opportunities for utilities to make effective use of the 3.5 GHz band while protecting the investments that utilities have already made in 3.65 GHz incumbent systems.
UTC has positioned utilities for access to 50 megahertz of spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band. The FCC hasn’t issued a decision yet, but we expect it to do so soon. This band could provide backhaul capacity to nearby substations and fiber networks, thereby enabling higher capacity applications and offloading traffic from wide-area land mobile and microwave communications networks.
The FCC is considering allowing utilities to share spectrum with public safety in order to make more effective use of the 4.9 GHz band. UTC supports making utilities eligible to license spectrum in the band and has worked with public safety to develop a band plan that is endorsed by the public safety community. This could provide synergies that would serve the public interest in energy and water, as well as public safety services. UTC urges the FCC to issue a further rulemaking proceeding that would enable utilities to become licensees, which could also lead to public private partnerships with public safety on shared systems.
Utilities operate extensive microwave communications systems that they use for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint backhaul communications. These systems support mission critical communications, providing highly reliable, high-capacity, cost-effective connectivity over long distances. The 6 GHz band is one of the key spectrum bands that utilities use for microwave communications. Recently, an application was filed with the FCC that proposes to use the 6 GHz band for a mobile nationwide network that would support the Internet of Things (IoT). The application by Higher Ground requests a waiver of the FCC’s rules that prohibit mobile operations in the 6 GHz band and a waiver of the FCC rules that require prior coordination of any operation in the band. UTC is concerned that the proposed mobile operations by Higher Ground would threaten to cause widespread interference to utility microwave operations in the 6 GHz band, and that the proposal by Higher Ground to use its own database to coordinate its operations would not mitigate the potential for interference to utility microwave systems in the band. UTC filed comments that support petitions to deny the application by Higher Ground. These comments oppose Higher Ground’s application on both procedural and substantive grounds, and request that the Commission deny the application or in the alternative conduct a rulemaking proceeding to address the significant issues that are raised by Higher Ground.
The FCC is considering a rulemaking proceeding that would allow Radio Amateurs to operate on certain frequencies that are currently used by utilities for Powerline Carrier systems (PLC). UTC has opposed this proposal because of the potential interference that it could cause to PLC systems, which utilities use to protect the electric grid from widespread outages that could result from faults on the grid.
UTC was also successful this year in establishing a committee on utility spectrum access as part of the ITU region for North and South America. UTC will chair this group, and it will leverage existing research on the issue to support an ITU recommendation for a worldwide allocation of spectrum for utilities.
Use of Telex Headsets in Nuclear Power Plants. UTC has been working with the Nuclear Energy Institute to support utilities that seek to continue to use Telex headsets in nuclear power plants. While the FCC has provided utilities with a conditional waiver to continue to operate these systems on an unlicensed basis, it is considering rules for the use of the 600 MHz band which could affect the ability of utilities to operate in this band going forward. UTC is working with NEI to seek permanent relief for utilities that are operating these Telex headsets in nuclear power plant.
The FCC is developing rules for a reverse auction for access to some of the $18 billion in funding that is available to provide broadband to unserved areas, under the Connect America Fund. UTC has been working with the FCC to develop rules that would promote access to funding for robust, affordable and reliable broadband services in rural America that are reasonably comparable in terms of quality and cost to the broadband services that are available in urban and suburban areas of the country. UTC believes that this is an investment in the future of these communities, and that the rules should promote the deployment of broadband networks that are future-proof and would promote economic growth and improve education and health care. Utilities represent a real solution to the digital divide and the FCC should promote access to funding by utilities to deploy broadband networks and offer robust, affordable and reliable broadband services to rural America.
- Reply Comments filed on September 12, 2016 to the Opposition by United States Telecom Association (09/12/2016)
- UTC and NRECA Joint Reply Comments on the FCC’s Further Rulemaking for CAF (Weighting Criteria) (8/5/2016)
- Joint Petition for Reconsideration filed by UTC and NRECA (July 21, 2016)
- UTC and NRECA Comments on the FCC’s Further Rulemaking for CAF (Weighting Criteria) (7/21/2016)
- UTC Letter in Support of CFC Waiver Request to Become an Eligible Bank for CAF (2/2/2015)
UTC filed reply comments in support of two petitions, one by Microsoft Corporation, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) and other petitioners, and the other petition by Boulder Valley School District, which seek to extend E-rate (i.e. the Connect America Fund Schools and Libraries Program) to apply to broadband for off-campus use and to waive the requirement for the E-rate applicant to cost allocate the portion of the traffic attributable to off-campus use. UTC echoed comments on the record that supported these petitions as a way to remedy the so-called homework gap that results when students cannot access the Internet from their homes, even though they have Internet access at their schools. UTC also debunked comments that opposed the petitions arguing that E-rate shouldn’t be extended to apply to off-campus broadband because of insufficient safeguards to ensure that funding was actually used for educational purposes.
The FCC is required by Congress to regularly assess the state of broadband deployment; and if it determines that it is not being made available to all Americans on a reasonable and timely basis, it must take immediate action to remove barriers to investment. The FCC is conducting its latest assessment and has initiated a Notice of Inquiry to collect information for the preparation of its Twelfth Broadband Progress Report. This latest Inquiry invites comment on whether the Commission should update the current definition of broadband from 25/3 mbps and also whether it should consider non-speed factors such as latency, jitter, and usage allowances (i.e. data caps) when making its determination as to whether broadband is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis. UTC’s comments describe how utilities are deploying future-proof broadband networks and offering robust, reliable, and affordable broadband services. In its comments, UTC supported increasing the benchmark for speed to 50/20 mbps and supported adopting benchmarks for latency at less than 100 ms, as well as unlimited usage allowances (i.e. no data caps) for fixed broadband services. UTC concluded that increasing the benchmarks for speed and adopting benchmarks that lower latency and remove data caps will help to ensure that all Americans – including those in rural areas — are able to access broadband services that are capable of meeting increasing demands for higher speeds and lower latency to support applications such as over-the-top video, as well as voice and machine-to-machine communications, such as smart grid.
Pole Attachments. The FCC has expanded access requirements and reduced rates for pole attachments by third parties to provide a range of communications services. UTC believes that these access and rate regulations for pole attachments already threaten safety, reliability and security and subsidize the communications industry. Hence, UTC has cautioned against any further expansion of pole attachment regulations on utilities and has urged the FCC to protect the safety, reliability and security of utility infrastructure from unauthorized attachments and attachments that violate utility standards.
Utilities are affected by the ongoing IP Transition, as wireline commercial carriers migrate from copper-based, circuit-switched networks and towards IP-based networks and services. Some utilities have hundreds or even thousands of substations that rely on leased lines and analog services from the carriers that are being transitioned or discontinued altogether. The replacement services may not meet utility requirements for reliability and performance to support utility operations. Alternatively if the service is being discontinued altogether, utilities may lack any connectivity to these substations. UTC’s position on this issue is that the FCC should require that carriers provide sufficient notice to utilities prior to transitioning or discontinuing a service and the replacement service must be as good or better than the legacy carrier service.
UTC participates in a number of policy and advocacy activities on behalf of its members’ interests. UTC’s security advocacy strives for the optimum balance between regulation and self-governance so that utilities can apply as much of their resources as possible toward true security; to influence emerging and existing security standards toward the best security posture for member utilities; to enable promising students and mid-career adults to follow a career path into utility cybersecurity; and to attain clarity in regulations so that utilities and their technology partners have the clearest possible visibility of what defines compliance.
UTC has recently appeared before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Subcommittee on Energy Committee on Science, Space, and Technology; and the Illinois Commerce Commission. UTC also participates in responses to requests for information (RFIs) issued by FERC, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the U.S. Department of Energy, either alone or in collaboration with other utility trade associations.
Quadrennial Energy Review
The Department of Energy is developing its second installment of the QER, which will consider issues such as distributed and centralized generation, physical and cyber vulnerabilities, federal, state, and local policy direction, expectations of residential and commercial consumers, and a review of existing and evolving business models for a range of entities throughout the system. In response, UTC met with the Department of Energy (DOE) and filed comments with the DOE on various issues including utility wireless and wireline communications.
UTC this letter providing comments regarding the QER to Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, U.S. Department of Energy on August 19, 2016.