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Better coordination with telecom sector needed during storm restoration: electric industry groups

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Better coordination with telecom sector needed during storm restoration: electric industry groups

Highlights

Power groups offer advice on improving wireless network resiliency

FCC policies part of the problem: trade groups

Washington — With the telecommunications and energy sectors at odds over the allocation of radio spectrum, the head of a utilities trade group pointed to storm recovery and resilience as an area in which the two industries could work together if they can get beyond the blame game.

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The expectations surrounding service are worlds apart in the energy and telecom industries, Utilities Technology Council President and CEO Joy Ditto said in an interview, noting the difference in how often electricity goes out compared with the frequency of dropped calls.

She said telecom providers are quick to point the finger at utility linemen for damaging telecom fiber lines. If telecom companies had boots on the ground after major storms, she said they would see that more often that fiber is cut by landowners and transportation crews clearing out debris.

"Instead of saying it's the utilities, it's all their fault, come join us and commit to sending more people and observing with us," Ditto said. PLAN B

Ditto acknowledged that there are 3,000 electric utilities in the country to pull resources from during an emergency while there are just a handful of big telecommunications providers. That, however, did not excuse the communications industry from needing to have a "Plan B" when outages occur. She noted that utilities' internal communications networks have "backups to backups to backups so our communications stay online" and power restoration can proceed swiftly.

Ditto added that it is also in the utilities' interest to have telecom services restored quickly. "We're not able to talk to our own customers unless those commercial carriers are back online, so we want them to come back on too, but we can't do their jobs for them," she said. "We can work with them. If the blame game is not played, it's a better environment to be able to do that."

Republican Senator Rick Scott, who was serving as the governor of Florida at the time, heavily criticized the pace of telecom companies' restoration efforts after the state was hit by Hurricane Michael in October. While much of the power in the state was restored within days, some communications services were out for a month.

Accusations of electric utility crews inadvertently prolonging communications outages prompted a US Federal Communications Commission investigation into the hurricane response and a subsequent FCC proceeding seeking comments on increasing coordination with power companies to improve wireless network resiliency.

INFORMATION EXCHANGE

UTC joined the Edison Electric Institute, GridWise Alliance and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in filing comments with the FCC that call on the agency to facilitate an information exchange and increase coordination between communications providers and electric companies during disasters.

The trade groups said access to information about communications providers' fiber assets and the information those providers report to the Disaster Information Reporting System would aid coordination with electric companies.

"Communications providers should also tag their fiber lines to help expedite identification of which attachments belong to which communications providers or provide locators to electric company crews to facilitate locating underground facilities," the groups said in their comments.

The comments also advised communications providers to harden their infrastructure and build redundancies into their networks to avoid single points of failure.

The power industry trade groups were also critical of the FCC itself, contending that the agency's policies "discourage hardening of communications networks via practices such as undergrounding and making infrastructure smarter with information technology, in favor of above-ground pole attachments."

The groups asserted that "the FCC's current policy has favored inexpensive, rapid deployment of communications facilities over the safety, reliability, and equitable cost sharing of electric infrastructure."

-- Jasmin Melvin, jasmin.melvin@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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