UTC to DOE: Utilities need access to spectrum for smart grid

Washington, D.C., August 11, 2010 — The Utilities Telecom Council joined a chorus of comments filed at the Department of Energy, which recommended that utilities and other critical infrastructure industries, such as pipeline companies, need access to spectrum to support their communications needs.

Comments on the record — including those by the American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Petroleum Institute — overwhelmingly support the need for spectrum.

They universally agree that utilities and other critical infrastructure industries have increasing communications needs to support smart grid and emergency response communications.

To meet these needs, utilities will use a variety of different technologies, but wireless systems will be a key component; and access to licensed spectrum is necessary to ensure the reliability and security of utility wireless systems, now and in the future.

William R. Moroney, President and CEO, Utilities Telecom Council proposed that utilities could access spectrum on a shared basis with Federal government users or public safety entities. “Utilities can compatibly share spectrum with Federal government and public safety operations, because they use communications in similar ways. They each need highly reliable networks especially after natural or manmade disasters to support the safe and effective delivery of essential services to the public at large. In addition, they need interoperable communications to respond to emergencies, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters effectively.”

Moroney added, “Moreover, shared networks will make more efficient use of resources such as towers, as well as spectrum. There are synergies that could be realized by utilities sharing spectrum with Federal government and public safety, and UTC looks forward to working with DOE, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and other stakeholders to move that concept forward.”

Only a few comments opposed the industry’s need for access to spectrum, claiming that commercial carriers could meet all of utilities’ communication needs. In response, UTC and most other commenters agreed that carriers could support some of utilities’ communications needs, but the vast majority of utilities will need to use their own private internal networks to support mission-critical applications in order to ensure the safety and reliability of their critical infrastructure and the essential services they provide.

As such, forcing utilities to rely on commercial carriers for mission-critical applications would undermine the security and reliability of the nation’s electrical grid and other critical infrastructure. Yet there are non-mission critical applications for which utilities already rely in whole or part upon commercial carriers, a need not likely to change. Providing access to spectrum gives utilities the option to use and further build out their own wireless networks where appropriate.

UTC applauds the DOE for its effort in conducting this study of the communications needs of utilities, as recommended by the FCC in its National Broadband Plan. The need for access to spectrum by utilities is urgent and the DOE has moved quickly to address this issue. UTC eagerly awaits the release of the DOE study and its recommendation for access to spectrum to support smart grid and other critical infrastructure communications.


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