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Smart Grid May Present New Opportunities for Broadband, Say Experts

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2009 – Revamping the nation’s energy grid for the 21st Century could increase demand for a nationwide broadband network. But a group of experts from government, standards-setting bodies and industry told senators Tuesday that all stakeholders must first do a better job of working together to digitize electricity transmission and delivery systems.



WASHINGTON, March 3, 2009 – Revamping the nation’s energy grid for the 21st Century could increase demand for a nationwide broadband network, said industry experts and regulators.

But at a Tuesday hearing by the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, a group of experts from government, standards-setting bodies and industry told senators that all stakeholders must first do a better job of working together to digitize electricity transmission and delivery systems.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandated creation of a Department of Energy-run Smart Grid Task Force to advance solutions for a modern energy grid. The Act also authorized a grant program for demonstration projects and investment in new infrastructure. And the economic stimulus legislation passed last month funded those grant programs.

But questions remain over the effectiveness and structure of the programs, said Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. Bingaman said he called the hearing so government and industry witnesses could testify “on how well the funding for the grant program is being administered,” and encouraged all witnesses to “let us know whether or not we have gotten it right…and as to whether or not there is something else we need to do in legislation.”

Ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, worried that Americans aren’t on the same page with this new technology. “Are we talking about the same thing?” she asked. She explained: “Some appear to confuse the idea of making our electrical grid ‘smarter’ with making it ‘bigger,’” Murkowski cautioned Americans to remember that the smart grid is “a potential tranformation in how we use and deliver electricity.”

But challenges for the grid remain, she said, citing the lack of an interoperability framework, no standard for cybersecurity, possible obsolescence and worries about public acceptance of the grid’s cost. And Murkowski was concerned about how the $4.5 billion in stimulus grants will be distributed in the absence of a standard for interoperability. She asked: “[D]o we risk making investments in technology that may soon be obsolete?”

Developing the framework will be “a challenging task,” said Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Suedeen Kelly. FERC is working with the Energy Department, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security as part of the Smart Grid Task Force required by the 2007 Act. And the task force is also working with state regulators to develop interoperability standards, she said.

Those standards must be built in from the start and not added later, Kelly warned. But while FERC will promulgate standards once NIST has approved them, Kelly reminded the senators that FERC does not have authority to compel adherence to the standards beyond the scope of the Federal Power Act. True national enforcement of standards by the commission would have to be authorized by statute, she said.

NIST is “well suited and ready” to coordinate development of standards through “collaborative efforts with all stakeholders,” deputy director Patrick Gallhager told the committee. But achieving interoperability will require “reliable standards and validated performance,” he added.

The grid will probably make use of “suites” of standards, rather than just one, Gallhager said. Any interoperability framework that NIST develops will have the flexibility to evolve with technology, he added.

And the framework will be developed in an “open and transparent process” that will let companies have confidence to “buy in” to the system, he said. But standards do not mean interoperability, he noted. Testing is necessary to make sure any system actually works, he said.

Developing standards and administering the grant program are the Energy Department’s “highest priorities,” said Patricia Hoffman, acting assistant secretary for energy delivery and reliability. The department has already released one of two Notices of Intent regarding the grant program, and will soon release the second, followed by a formal request for proposals.

The NOIs will give guidance to potential grantees on how their applications will be evaluated, she said. Both notices will be issued within the 60 day period required by the stimulus bill, she added.

But the standards process is not working, said National Electrical Manufacturers CEO Evan Gaddis. Gaddis called for a “common alphabet” of uniform time stamps, location codes, commands, and measurements, before any common language could be created. And Gaddis warned that utilities have yet to even agree on a standard to record current and voltage – the “fundamental measurements of electrical power.”

Congress should direct an accredited standards organization to accelerate development of the “alphabet” in a “consensus-based process,” Gaddis said. NIST can and should “bless” the effort, he said. But “industry is ready now.”

The smart grid should use open standards and application programming interfaces to drive competition while empowering both industry and consumers, said Google advanced projects program manger Edward Lu.

Google believes consumers should have access to real-time data on their electricity consumption, Lu said. He compared energy use today to going grocery shopping in a store with no posted prices. “Personal energy information belongs to consumers,” he said, “and they should control who have access to it.”

Open protocols and standards would let consumers share data “in a format that is standardized, freely published, and unencumbered by a patent or proprietary claim,” he said. Google has been testing such a system called PowerMeter among its employees, and is building partnerships with utilities and device manufacturers for a public test, he said.

And while Lu admitted there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to providing consumers with information, he said Google looks forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to enable more consumer control over energy usage.

But Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., worried that a standard could become obsolete if not implemented before grant money is distributed. Kelly responded that an open technology would be unlikely to become obsolete. “We don’t have to wait for standards,” Kelly said, “but open architecture is very important.”

And the energy department is working with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to develop a “clearinghouse” of web-based information on costs, architecture and other information to allow more participation by stakeholders, Kelly added.

The open architecture will consist of many application programming interfaces, Gallagher told Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Cantwell worried that TCP/IP architecture may not be appropriate for some applications. “We need to keep our eyes on that,” she said. But Murkowski later said in an interview that the “bottom line…is how to get the information to the consumer.”

California Public Utility Commissioner Rachelle Chong, who represents NARUC on the Smart Grid Task Force, said that TCP/IP over broadband was especially appropriate for such consumer-oriented “home area network” applications. It would be “very positive” to have information on publically available sites in real time, she said.

Despite NIST’s standards push, Chong said many utility companies, including two in California, are already working to form voluntary, technology-neutral standards. She compared the group to the communications and electronics companies that came together to develop devices that operate in the so-called “shite spaces,” or vacant television channels. “Open is the best way to go,” she said.

Utility companies, Chong said, view communications as important to developing a smart grid. And the telecommunications providers that maintain fast internet protocolnetworks are beginning to grasp the idea of utilities as customers, she said.

Still, most utilities – even those within the same state – don’t have standardized measurements or times, she said. But California’s Public Utility Commission has a rulemaking open on the issue, added Chong, who was also a member of the FCC in the 1990s.

Chong admitted that “we’re at the very beginning” of building the grid, but said an IP/broadband based Smart Grid would make sense for consumers while presenting new business opportunities for telecommunications companies.

And while Chong was excited to see the convergence of power and telecommunications technology – an “exciting crossover” between the different stages of her career, Chong’s enthusiasm was grounded not in her personal satisfaction, but a firm belief that the smart grid will lead to better experiences for consumers and a more positive future for the environment.

Broadband Breakfast Club

March Meeting: Broadband Competition: Do We Have It, and How Do We Get More of It? presents the March meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, March 10, 2009, at 8 a.m. Because of the Commerce Department/Agriculture Department/FCC Public Meeting on broadband stimulus from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Broadband Breakfast Club will adjourn at 9:30 a.m.

  • NEW! – James Baller, President of Baller Herbst Law Group, will provide a brief summary of the progress of the U.S. Broadband Coalition
  • Art Brodsky, Communication Director, Public Knowledge
  • Kathleen Ham, Vice President, Federal Regulatory, T-Mobile USA
  • Brent Olson, Assistant Vice President, Public Policy, AT&T
  • Emmett O’Keefe, Director, Federal Public Policy,
  • Scott Wallsten, Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow, Technology Policy Institute

Webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club Produced in Partnership with:

TV Mainstream

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

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Digital Inclusion

NTIA Seeks Comment on How to Spend $2.5 Billion in Digital Equity Act

National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking comment on how to structure the programs.



Photo of Veneeth Iyengar of ConnectLA

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that it is seeking comment on how to structure the $2.5 billion that the Digital Equity Act provides to promote digital equity and inclusion. 

As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Digital Equity Act consists of two sub-programs, the State Digital Equity Capacity grant and the Digital Equity Competitive grant. Comments will guide how the NTIA will design, regulate, and evaluate criteria for both programs. 

“We need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the systemic barriers that prevent some from fully utilizing the Internet,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Wednesday at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion event in San Antonio. 

See Commerce Secretary Raimondo’s remarks at Net Inclusion:

The request for comment is part of NTIA’s strategy to hear diverse perspectives in implementing its goal to ensure every American has the skills and capacity needed to reap the benefits of the digital economy, stated a press release. 

The $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity grant will fund implementation of state digital equity plans which will strategically plan how to overcome barriers faced by communities seeking to achieve digital equity.  

Simply making investments in broadband builds is not enough, said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, speaking at a Brookings Insitution event in December. Bringing digital equity means “driving adoption, digital skills, and doing the kinds of things that we need to do to tackle the digital divide.” 

The $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive grant program will fund anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and nonprofits, in offering digital inclusion activities that promote internet adoption. 

“Community-anchor institutions have been and are the connective tissue that make delivering high-speed internet access possible,” said Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA at AnchorNets 2022 conference. 

This announcement follows dissent on the definition of digital discrimination. Commenters to the Federal Communications Commission disagree on whether the intent of a provider should be considered when determining if the provider participated in digital discrimination. There has been no response from the FCC. 

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Innovation Fund’s Global Approach May Improve O-RAN Deployment: Commenters

The $1.5 billion Innovation Fund should be used to promote global adoption, say commenters.



Illustration about intelligent edge computing from Deloitte Insights

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2023 – A global approach to funding open radio access networks will improve its success in the United States, say commenters to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA is seeking comment on how to implement the $1.5 billion appropriated to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund as directed by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The grant program is primarily responsible for supporting the promotion and deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks. 

Radio access networks provide critical technology to connect users to the mobile network over radio waves. O-RAN would create a more open ecosystem of network equipment that would otherwise be reliant on proprietary technology from a handful of companies.  

Global RAN

Commenters to the NTIA argue that in order for O-RAN to be successful, it must be global. The Administration must take a “global approach” when funding projects by awarding money to those companies that are non-U.S.-based, said mobile provider Verizon in its comments.  

To date, new entrants into the RAN market have been the center for O-RAN development, claimed wireless service provider, US Cellular. The company encouraged the NTIA to “invest in proven RAN vendors from allied nations, rather than focusing its efforts on new entrants and smaller players that lack operational expertise and experience.” 

Korean-based Samsung Electrontics added that by allowing trusted entities with a significant U.S. presence to compete for project funding and partner on those projects, the NTIA will support standardizing interoperability “evolution by advancing a diverse global market of trusted suppliers in the U.S.” 

O-RAN must be globally standardized and globally interoperable, Verizon said. Funding from the Public Wireless Innovation Fund will help the RAN ecosystem mature as it desperately needs, it added.  

Research and development

O-RAN continues to lack the maturity that is needed for commercial deployment, agreed US Cellular in its comments. The company indicated that the complexity and costliness of system integration results from there being multiple vendors that would need to integrate but are not ready for full integration. 

Additionally, interoperability with existing RAN infrastructure requires bi-lateral agreements, customized integration, and significant testing prior to deployment, the comment read. The complicated process would result in O-RAN increasing the cost of vendor and infrastructure deployment, claimed US Cellular, directly contrary to the goals of O-RAN. 

Several commenters urged the NTIA to focus funding projects on research and development rather than subsidizing commercial deployments.  

The NTIA is already fully engaged in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said Verizon. The Innovation Fund will better advance its goals by funding projects that accelerate the solving of remaining O-RAN technical challenges that continue to delay its deployment, it continued. 

US Cellular argued that the NTIA should “spur deployment of additional independent testing and certification lab facilities… where an independent third party can perform end to end testing, conformance, and certification.” 

The Innovation Fund should be used to focus on technology development and solving practical challenges, added wireless trade association, CTIA. Research can focus on interoperability, promotion of equipment that meets O-RAN specifications, and projects that support hardware design and energy efficiency, it said. 

Furthermore, CTIA recommended that the Administration avoid interfering in how providers design their networks to encourage providers to adopt O-RAN in an appropriate manner for their company. Allowing a flexible, risk-based approach to O-RAN deployments will “help ensure network security and stability,” it wrote. 

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CES 2023: NTIA to Address Broadband, Spectrum, and Privacy, Says Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations.



Photo of NTIA Adminstrator Alan Davidson

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2023 priorities will include the funding and facilitation of states’ broadband deployment programs, the development of a national spectrum policy, and actions to protect the privacy of marginalized groups, said Administrator Alan Davidson at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday.

The NTIA’s most high-profile task is to oversee the operations of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.45 billion slush fund for broadband-infrastructure deployments which will be divided among the governments of states and U.S. territories. Those governments will administer final distribution of the BEAD funds in accordance with the NTIA’s guidelines.

“This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment,” Davidson said. “This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy, and we are going to do it.”

Davidson reiterated his agency’s stated intention to develop a comprehensive national spectrum strategy to facilitate the various spectrum interests of government and private industry. To allocate spectrum in a manner that fulfills federal needs and stimulates the growth of innovators, largely in the sector of 5G, the NTIA – the administrator of federally used spectrum – must coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission – the administrator of other spectrum.

Calling for a national privacy law, Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations. He stated that the NTIA will, possibly within weeks, request public comment on “civil rights and privacy.”

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