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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 is 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.


Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.



Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications

The more detail, the better, NTIA officials said of program.



Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for NTIA's Connecting Minority Communities, speaking at Broadband Communities in Houston

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021–Lack of eligibility or proper planning or documentation errors are frequent grounds for disqualification of applicants for the United States’ Commerce Department’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, agency officials said Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking at webinars for individuals considering applying for the grants – which are being made by the National Telecommunications and Information Association of the Commerce Department – officials shared the most commons mistakes made by applicants when applying for the grants.

Among the officials speaking during the two presentations were Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for the Connecting Minority Communities program, Management and Program Analyst Pandora Beasley-Timpson, Broadband Program Specialist Janice Wilkins, Telecommunications Policy Analyst Francine Alkisswani, and Broadband Program Specialists Cameron Lewis and Kevin Hughes.

Among the biggest mistakes is eligibility. “Only historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, or minority serving institutions can apply,” said NTIA’s Michelle Morton.

Making a Successful Application

Morton and other leaders of the program also shared traits of a successful grant application.

“Good applicants provide a business and execution plan,” they said. “[Applicants] should demonstrate there is a core staff that is dedicated to the proposed project and knowledgeable about the process, as well as an editor, preferably one not connected to the project, to encourage non-biased review of the grant to see how it reads.”

Project Implementation and Evaluation

When describing their project implementation and planning process, applicants should have a clear project narrative that “identifies specific tasks, measurable milestones, and performance outcomes resulting from the proposed project activity,” the officials said.

Importantly, the NTIA stressed that all applicants must comply with Commerce Department regulations for the protection of human subjects during all research conducted or supported with grant funds.

This is important because the NTIA is required to determine whether or not a project’s evaluation plan “meets the definition of human subject research.” Thus, no work can be taken for research involving human subject until a federal grants officer approves of the research.


NTIA leaders also addressed questions about consortium-based applicants. “The lead application is the entity entering into the grant agreement with the NTIA and assumes primary operational and financial responsibility for the project.”

A consortium allows Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions to partner with local governments on their application. Each consortium partner must provide a letter of a commitment to the project, including the detailed role of each member of the project and the specific commitment of each member of the project.

Finances and Budgeting

Applicants are also required to include financial documentation that details how the funds will be used and how the funding plans to meet the projects’ intended goals.

Additionally, applicants’ budget narrative should serve to explain how the costs were estimated and justify how the budget items are necessary to implement project goals and objectives and accomplished applicant’s proposed outcomes.

“We encourage out of the box thinking with regard to applicants putting together their projects,” said Hughes.

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Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA



Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a version of legislation creating a new office with the Commerce Department, and  re-authorizing the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to protect consumers from deceptive internet marketing.

One bill would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration of the Commerce Department.

While senators approved both the reauthorization of the US SAFEWEB Act and the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act by voice vote.

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act requires the administrator of NTIA to establish a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within 180 days of the bill’s enacting date, with the aim of coordinating and streamlining the process of applying for various federal broadband support programs.

However, the amended version of the bill includes language authored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which specifically excludes the Universal Service Fund’s programs from the office’s mandate.

The bill would also require the new office to create a single application for the various federal programs under its auspices, as well as a website which would be a one-stop shop for individuals and institutions seeking to learn more about federal programs for expanding broadband access.

In her opening remarks before the committee began consideration of the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, praised the “good bipartisan work” that went into drafting it.

“Closing the digital divide that so many communities particularly in our rural communities face is a priority for many members on this committee, and this bill is an important step in addressing that challenge,” she said.

“And I would I would say that this coronavirus is also a very strong learning lesson for us, as it relates to the gaps in broadband because you certainly need it as it relates to so many aspects of delivering on education and healthcare during this time period.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., later added that the bill, which she co-sponsored, will be helpful to Arizonans living in rural areas who may need help accessing better broadband services.

“Nearly 25 million Arizonans living in rural areas do not have access to high speed internet, so it’s crucial for Arizona that rural communities are afforded the same opportunity to stay connected as our urban areas, and the ACCESS BROADBAND Act moves us in the right direction,” she said. “It’s an essential step to help us close the digital divide and ensure everyone in my state and across our country can access quality, high speed internet and the opportunities that come with it.”

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