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Why do we keep asking "What are smart grids?"

All too often, I hear smart grid discussions started by someone suggesting that we really ought to come up with a definition for smart grids. Frankly, that makes me wonder how we ended up with so many people who claim to not know what smart grids are telling us what we should be doing about smart grids.

Seriously, if you don't know what smart grids are, either (a) be quiet and listen to those who do or (b) don't diminish what you do have to contribute to the discussion by highlighting what you don't understand about smart grids. Read more »

FCC Pushing Bad Pole Attachment Policies

UTC and EEI yesterday filed detailed comments in opposition to the FCC proposals to change the pole attachment rules. In summary, the FCC's latest pole attachment proposals would further subsidize the communications industry at the expense of electric customers and would undermine the safety and reliability of the nation's electric grid; and, that’s not a great formula for success. Our major concerns are proposals for new "timelines for make ready," Allowing use of third party contractors for make ready, creation of a pole attachment database that would reveal the location of critical facilities, new compensatory damages for failure to strictly comply with the new rules, and low, sub-cable rates for telecommunications attachments. In too many instances, these proposals would put utilities in the position of either breaking the rules or putting the employees and customers at risk. We know what utilities will do and fervently believe it is wrong to penalize utilities for ensuring safety. Additionally, the proposal has the FCC, which takes great pride in regulatory transparency, continuing policies of hiding the cost of broadband deployment in utility customer bills. The UTC/EEI comments are worth reading for a good understanding of the current pole attachment debate. If you still have questions, contact Brett Kilbourne, Director of Regulatory Services & Associate Counsel UTC at 202.833.6807 or

SGIP Weighs Impact of EMI & EMC on Smart Grid

NIST has created a forum to discuss the impact of electromagnetic compatibility and interference on the operation of the smart grid. The agency states that electromagnetic disturbances and interference are two of the “…major standards-related issues and barriers impacting standardization efforts and progress toward a fully operational Smart Grid.” This forum is intended to start the discussion of how to ensure that the appropriate standards are specified or developed and then applied to ensure the Smart Grid systems are resistant to harmful electromagnetic events and at the same time do not cause interference to other systems. The site can be accessed here. Read more »

LMCC Supports Harmonization of FCC's License Renewal and Discontinuance of Operation Rules

The Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) has filed comments encouraging the FCC to adopt consistent rules addressing the Commission's license renewal and discontinuance of operation requirements. LMCC's comments stress the need for regulatory simplicity and commonality amongst similar wireless radio services regulated by the Commission including those subject to Parts 22, 90, and 101. LMCC endorsed an "affirmative certification" for site-based renewal filings in which the licensee would confirm that it continues to operate consistent with the terms of its authorization.  LMCC did not support a proposed "regulatory compliance demonstration" noting that it would impose an unnecessary burden on licensees and the Commission itself. The comments also voiced support for retention of the current one-year rule for discontinuance of operations for most site-based Part 90 licensees. LMCC's comments were filed in response to the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in WT Docket No. 10-112.  UTC is a long-standing member of LMCC and sits on its Board of Directors.

UTC Echoes Comments at DOE Recommending Access to Spectrum for Utilities


UTC filed reply comments at the Department of Energy in response to its request for information on the communications needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure industries. The reply comments emphasized the broad support on the record for access to spectrum to support smart grid and other communications needs. UTC explained that utilities will need access to 30 MHz of spectrum in a frequency range below 2 GHz. UTC also acknowledged that commercial networks will support some of utilities’ communications needs, but that most utilities will rely on private internal networks for mission critical communications. Finally, UTC answered opponents of spectrum access, who contend that utilities should rely exclusively on commercial networks for their communications needs. UTC explained that utilities’ communications needs are not so cut and dry and will involve the use of various different technology solutions, including commercial networks; but that utilities should not be forced to use commercial networks with no other option. For more information, contact the UTC Legal/Regulatory Department.

Rockefeller Introduces Bill to Reallocate 700 MHz D-Block for Public Safety


Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has introduced the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S3756), which would reallocate the 700 MHz D-Block for public safety entities. The bill also would authorize the FCC to allow a public safety licensee to provide access to the spectrum to certain other non-public safety governmental entities, commercial users, utilities, including organizations providing or operating critical infrastructure, including electric, gas and water utilities, and other Federal agencies and departments. This access would be secondary to public safety licensees, and would be subject to preemption by the public safety licensee. The FCC would need to approve such access arrangements, and all monies would be required to be reinvested into the network build out. There are also additional conditions associated with the 700 MHz D-Block licenses. They must follow interoperability standards developed by the FCC, and they must be able to roam onto commercial 700 MHz networks. A Public Safety Advisory Board would oversee the development of the 700 MHz rules, and would be composed of representatives from 1) state and local governments; 2) public safety organizations; 3) providers of commercial services; and 4) manufacturers of communications equipment. The bill provides funding of up to $2 billion, and the Federal share of the funds should not exceed 80%, but this restriction can be waived and the non-federal share can be met through in-kind contributions. The funds will be raised through an auction of 25 MHz spectrum in the 1675-1710 MHz range and a second block in the 2155-2180 MHz range. In addition, funds will be raised through the voluntary relinquishment of spectrum by incumbent licensees, and the subsequent auction of that spectrum. Any auction revenues up to $5.5 billion will go towards the capital expenses of the build out and anything over $5.5 billion will go towards operational and maintenance expenses. Finally, any auction revenues exceeding $11 billion will go towards various appropriated “growth enhancing infrastructure projects”, including Smart Grid. For more information, contact the UTC Legal/Regulatory Department.

FCC Working on Cybersecurity Roadmap for Communications Networks; Seeks Comments

The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) seeks public comment on the creation of a Cybersecurity Roadmap, as recommended by the National Broadband Plan. The deadline for comments is September 23, 2010.

The notice rightly states that cybersecurity is a vital topic for the Commission because of the risk that unchecked vulnerabilities in the communications infrastructure pose for safety and privacy. The Plan calls for the Roadmap to identify the five most critical cybersecurity threats to the communications infrastructure and its end users, and to establish a two-year plan on how to address those threats. The Roadmap aims to identify vulnerabilities to communications networks or end-users and to develop countermeasures and solutions in preparation for, and response to, cyber threats and attacks in coordination with federal partners.

The Roadmap is an opportunity for utilities to comment on the high level of reliability and security required to run their internal communications networks that support the nation’s critical infrastructure. This effort to outline cybersecurity standards is one of the many being undertaken by the government as cybersecurity gets a larger focus. The Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are also drafting guidelines for cybersecurity principles for the industry. Additionally, utility customer experiences with security will determine their adoption and demand of smart grid enabled energy data management technologies.

Senate Panel Gives DOE Secretary Emergency Powers to Act on Grid Cyber Threats

The Energy secretary will have the power to issue emergency orders for imminent cybersecurity threats to the electric grid according to legislation passed unanimously by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Amending the GRID Act (H.R. 5026) that was passed by the House two months ago, the Senate Committee approved the bill to give authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for risks that are not as imminent. It also gives FERC the authority to order, without notice or hearing, and circumvent the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) process and directly order generation, transmission and select distribution utilities to address cyber vulnerabilities pertaining to programmable electronic devices or communications networks. FERC is directed to establish a cost recovery mechanism for utilities for prudently incurred compliance costs. A spokesperson for the Senate Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) told CongressDaily that these provisions will give  the bill a better chance passing the Senate this year. 

FCC Issues Part 101 Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry at August 5 Meeting

Per its recommendations outlined in the National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on its Part 101 rules with the intention “to remove regulatory barriers to the use of microwave spectrum for wireless backhaul”. While the documents have not been officially released yet, the FCC notice issued following its meeting today explained them as follows: Read more »

Annabelle Lee Moves from NIST to FERC

 In a letter from NIST's George Arnold to the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), it was announced that Annabelle Lee is leaving NIST for a position with FERC. The move adds depth to FERC's cybersecurity capabilities and re-enforces the opinion that FERC to take a leading role in smart grid cybersecurity. Read more »

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