Congress

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Mark-up of Spectrum Bill Slated for December 1

Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the Subcommittee on Communications of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has announced that the subcommittee will hold a mark-up of spectrum legislation on Thursday, December 1.  The bill, named the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011, will include spectrum to be auctioned for commercial wireless services, as well as the creation of a Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) in the 700 MHz band. Read more »

Alternatives to Passage of 700 MHz Legislation Being Considered After Failure of Super Committee

It had been widely expected that the $1.2 trillion package produced by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee) would have included spectrum auctions and funded the creation of a 700 MHz public safety broadband network (PSBN). But on Tuesday, with the committee's formal announcment that an agreement could not be reached, hopes to use that package as a vehicle for the spectrum legislation were dashed.  This is the second time that spectrum legislation has failed to pass as part of a larger package; the first was the debt ceiling bill passed earlier this year. 

Several legislative vehicles are now being considered, including an omnibus apppropriations bill to fund the government for the remainder of FY12, or individual appropriations bills.  In the meantime, standalone bills will be proceeding under "regular order" in both the Senate and the House.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee has been working on a revision of the Republican draft released in July.  With the failure of the Super Committee, the committee may resume consideration of the bill, with possible mark-up in December.  

In the Senate, S. 911 was passed by the Commerce Committee but has yet to be scheduled for a Floor vote. 

Throughout the deliberations of the Super Committee and now going forward, UTC has continued to carry its message to key congressional staff and Members about the public policy, operational, and monetary benefits that utilities bring to the table as partners in the construction and operations of the PSBN. Our main focus has been to ensure that utilities can share the 700 MHz spectrum and access the network notwithstanding Section 337 of the Communications Act and that State or regional partnership agreements between public safety and utilities, including terms related to traffic management, be given federal recognition.

The creation of the PSBN is on the priority list of both Sen. Rockefeller, chair of the Commerce Committee, and Rep. Upton, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  Final enactment, whether as part of a larger package or as standalone legislation, is anticipated in the near term.     

SEC Issues Guidelines On Reporting Cybersecurity Breaches and Risks

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued guidelines to publicly traded companies about what they’re obligated to disclose when hit by a cybersecurity breach. Particularly, the SEC expects companies to disclose “ the risk of cyber incidents if these issues are among the most significant factors that make an investment in the company speculative or risky. ” Disclosure would be required of substantial costs for remediation, increased cybersecurity protections, lost revenues, litigation or reputational damage associated with cyber incidents involving theft of intellectual property, other proprietary or financial information or disruption of operations. Additionally, disclosure may be required of material information related to cybersecurity risks, severity and frequency of prior cyber incidents, probability of cyber incidents and adequacy of preventative actions against threatened attacks.

The guidelines clarify that, “While registrants should provide disclosure tailored to their particular circumstances and avoid generic “boilerplate” disclosure, we reiterate that the federal securities laws do not require disclosure that itself would compromise a registrant’s cybersecurity. Instead, registrants should provide sufficient disclosure to allow investors to appreciate the nature of the risks faced by the particular registrant in a manner that would not have that consequence.” This reporting requirement will shed more light on how publicly traded companies’ are dealing with cybersecurity, and will add more pressure to investor-owned utilities already grappling with cybersecurity threats to the smart grid. Pike Research estimated that utility companies worldwide are likely to spend $21 billion by 2015 to improve cybersecurity for smart grid. Meanwhile, the U.S. energy sector awaits national, interoperable security standards to support the modernization of the grid, leading to heightened concerns about grid security and its impacts.

Earlier this year, Sen. Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, sent a letter to SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro calling on the Commission to clarify corporate disclosure requirements for cybersecurity breaches so that the American public can learn more about when hackers make efforts to penetrate companies’ computer systems. Sen. Rockefeller applauded the SEC action in press release saying, “Intellectual property worth billions of dollars has been stolen by cyber criminals, and investors have been kept completely in the dark. This guidance changes everything. It will allow the market to evaluate companies in part based on their ability to keep their networks secure. We want an informed market and informed consumers, and this is how we do it. I asked the SEC about this because these companies are required under law to report these incidents.”
  Read more »

CBO Scores Public Safety Bill Lower Than Expected

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its much anticipated report on the estimated cost of S911, the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2011, and the report concludes that the bill would reduce net direct spending by $6.5 billion over the 2012-2021 period. Proponents of the bill had predicted that the bill would reduce the deficit by $10 billion. This $3.5 billion shortfall could jeopardize the prospects for passage of the bill in its current form, because the bill is being considered as possibly part of the debt ceiling deal that is being developed by the President and Congress. Meanwhile, Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have circulated a discussion draft version of the bill, which is different from the S911 in several respects – including not reallocating the 700 MHz D-Block for Public Safety. House Republicans favor auctioning the 700 MHz D-block to help reduce the national debt. Read more »

700 MHZ D Block Clears Senate Committee

By a vote of 21-4, the Senate Commerce Committee approved an amended version of S. 911, a bill that would allocate the 700 MHz D block to establish a nationwide interoperable broadband network for use for public safety. Sixteen of eighty amendments proposed prior to the mark-up on Wednesday were adopted in the final version. Staff will attempt to iron out differences between the version introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and the version approved by the Senate Commerce Committee before sending the bill to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule Floor consideration. Timing for full Senate consideration is uncertain given the limited amount of time available on the Senate calendar, although Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) emphasized that he has made passage of this bill before September 11, 2011 his number one priority.

Of note to utilities, the bill as passed includes several provisions which address the concerns that would have had the potential to limit opportunities for utilities to partner with public safety in the construction and operations of the network: 1) The requirement for backwards compatibility with 2G and 3G networks has been modified to situations "where such capabilities are necessary and technically and economically reasonable;" and 2) the network should leverage existing commercial "or other communications infrastructure" in its build-out. However, the retention of priority access for public safety still remains. Read more »

House Energy and Commerce Holds First in a Series of Hearings on 700 MHz D

While the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to approve a bill allocating the 700 MHz D block to public safety on June 8, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has only just begun consideration of the issue, holding the first of four hearings on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.   

Witness at the hearing included representatives from the ARRL (ham radio), Motorola, Harris, Direction (representing commercial interests), Telephone and Data Systems, and the Public Safety Alliance (PSA).  Read more »

Senate Committee Approves "Grid Cyber Security Act" - Unanimously

Earlier today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources unanimously approved the "Grid Cyber Security Act", a somewhat amended version of the bill it approved last session but was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote.  The bill now goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who may opt to fold it into a more comprehensive cybersecurity bill he hopes to bring to the Floor later this summer. 

Meanwhile, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the Energy and Commerce Committee plans a hearing next Tuesday, May 31, on its own version of the bill whose language is based on the GRID Act passed unanimously last year by the House.

Under the provisions of the Senate bill, FERC jurisdiction would be expanded to include distribution in addition to generation and transmission systems and assets deemed "critical electric infrastructure [CEI]," defned as "so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of the systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on national security, national economic security, or national public health or safety."

Within 120 days of enactment, FERC is directed to review current standards to determine their adequacy to mitigate cyber vulnerabilities.  Due in part to criticisms that the NERC CIP standards setting process is too slow, the bill would impose a 180 day deadline for NERC to propose revisions to those standards that FERC finds wanting, or develop a new standard to address new vulnerabilities identified by FERC.  Reasonable time extensions will be granted, but the bill is silent on penalities if the deadline is not met. Read more »

APCO Gives Shout Out to Utilities As "At Times More First Responder Than We Are"

At a March 30th hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on the need for a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network, William Carrow, President of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (APCO) recognized the important role of utilities in emergency response.  Based on his experience in Delaware, Carrow stated that their statewide public safety radio system for mutual aid assistance includes local utilities in the event of major disasters like the three snowstorms that hit his state this year.  "They [utilities] become at many times more 'first responder' than we are.  If you don't have electricity and you don't have the wherewithal to get the job done, we have to rely on them." 

Rep. Pete King, chair of the committee, has introduced legislation to allocate the 700 MHz D-block to public safety to be combined with the original 10 MHz in the 700 MHz band given to public safety to create a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.  Chairman King referenced a recent study by the Phoenix Center that contends that $3.4 billion could be saved by assigning the  D block to public safety, rather than auction.  The Phoenix  Center is a 501(c)(3) organization funded in part by the major commercial service providers.   

Allocation of the D-block to public safety has been gaining momentum, with the White House, DHS, and most recently, the 9/11 Commission chair and vice chair adding their endorsement at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday. 

Joining Carrow at the witness table was Gregory Simay with the Burbank Water and Power Company and At-Large Director on the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication Systems Authority  (LARICS).  That system enables interoperable communications throughout Los Angeles County.  He cautioned that the allocation of the 700 MHz spectrum is a good first step, but until the 700 MHz network supports voice, UHF systems will still be needed for interoperability.   (HR 607 would require all public safety systems to migrate to the 700 MHz band, giving up their UHF spectrum for auction by the FCC.) 

Senate Commerce Postpones Cyber Hearings; House E & C Plans Spectrum Hearing

The Senate Commerce Committee has postponed its March 29th hearing on the economic implications of cyber threats and vulnerabilities to the private sector.  No new date has been set.  Also, the buzz about a hearing on spectrum policy proved unfounded: it did not make it onto the Committee's agenda for this week, but may be held in the weeks to come.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee does intend to hold a hearing on Wednesday, March 30 on "Ten Years After 9/11: A Report From the 9/11 Commission Chairmen".  Testifying will be Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Chair and Vice Chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.  The status of the Commission's recommendations, including the call for the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety network will be the focus.  Expect more of these hearings in the run-up to the Tenth Anniversary of September 11th. 
On the House side, there is talk of an upcoming Energy and Commerce (E&C)Committee hearing on spectrum policy, including the 700 MHz D block, on April 13th.  Information on witnesses is not available at this time.  The House Homeland Security Committee hearing on public safety communications needs is still on schedule for Wednesday, March 30. 

Cybersecurity Remains on Congress' Front Burner

The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday, March 29 to consider the economic impact of cyber threats and vulnerabilities to the private sector.   Witnesses from government, the private sector  and security specialists will also be asked to examine the private sector’s role in protecting networks from cyber exploitation and theft.

Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped to have consensus on a comprehensive cybersecurity bill to bring before the Senate in the coming months.  However, the seven committees with jurisdiction over various aspects of the issue could not reach agreement by Reid's March 15th deadline on what that national policy framework should look like.  Individual committee efforts are ongoing.  It is uncertain whether these individual bills will be combined into one comprehensive bill, or whether they will be considered individually.  But the urgency of the issue is still the rallying cry, and will be the central theme of Wednesday's hearing.

“Every day, cyber thieves are stealing our identities, our money, our business innovations and our national security secrets,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “They are trying to rob us of our economic and global competitiveness, and right now we’re not stopping them. There is too much at stake and no time to waste. I am committed to getting a cybersecurity bill passed this year.”

 

UTC continues to highlight three main issues: the need for a federal authority in the event of imminent cyber threat or attack (as opposed to vulnerabilities handled through the NERC process); the need to share timely and actionable threat/vulnerability information with asset owners; and the need to avoid duplicative or conflicting cyberstandards for the energy and water industries, which are subject to FERC, EPA and US Dept. of Transportation regulatory authorities, all of which are setting their own cybersecurity standards and procedures without coordination with other agencies.

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