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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:

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State Broadband Offices Need to Increase Their Capacity, Improve Data, and Communicate Well

NTIA’s Evan Feinman spoke about what states need to keep in mind as they prepare for BEAD funds.



Photo of Evan Feinman from AEI

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar event on Tuesday focused on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity. The webinar highlighted three important items to keep in mind as states begin to receive money for broadband planning.

The first, according to Evan Feinman, deputy associate administrator for BEAD, was for states to consider your office’s capacity. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million. Very few states have the human resources required to adequately run a program of this magnitude, he said.

The second is to build up research and data collections of broadband coverage at a state level. The Federal Communications Commission will soon release a new mapping system. It will be necessary, said Feinman, to “engage meaningfully” with these maps using state’s own research and data. Furthermore, states should have the necessary data to engage with internet service providers and the NTIA as they determine who is served and unserved.

Third, states should develop a clear-cut plan for outreach and communication support with stakeholders. Stakeholders include telecom providers, tribal governments, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning step is a great point for stakeholders to become involved in the process, said Feinman. “There is an expectation that lives throughout this program that folks are going to engage really thoroughly and in an outgoing way with their stakeholders.”

See other articles on the NTIA webinars issues in the wake of the Notices of Funding Opportunity on the Broadband.Money community:

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Treasury Department Joins FCC, USDA and NTIA in Collaborating on Broadband Funding

Agency leaders sign pact to formalize information-sharing on broadband deployment projects.



Photo of Janet Yellen from January 2018 by the European Central Bank

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022—Just in advance of the deadline for the release of the funding requirements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, the four principal federal agencies responsible for broadband funding released an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment.

The agencies are the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending, and the Treasury Department is the new addition to agreement.

The other three agencies signed a prior memorandum in June 2021 to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. That June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.

The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to high-speed internet to have a fair shot at 21st century success. The FCC, NTIA, USDA and Treasury are working together like never before to meet this shared goal,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships[and] get everyone, everywhere connected to the high-speed internet they need.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “When we invest in rural infrastructure, we invest in the livelihoods and health of people in rural America. High-speed internet is the new electricity.  It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, to have access to health care and to stay connected.”

“USDA remains committed to being a strong partner with rural communities and our state, Tribal and federal partners in building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage across the country.”

“Our whole-of-government effort to expand broadband adoption must be coordinated and efficient if we are going to achieve our mission,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the vast bulk of the broadband funding.

“This MOU will allow us to build the tools we need for even better data-sharing and transparency in the future,” he said.

“Treasury is proud to work with our federal agency partners to achieve President Biden’s goal of closing the nation’s digital divide,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.  “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is critical to the continued strength of our economy and a necessity for every American household, school, and business.”

As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources.  More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found on the FCC’s website.  The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022.

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FCC and NTIA Chiefs Name Jessica Quinley, Douglas Brake and Timothy May to Advisory Committees

NTIA representatives to join FCC technology and security committees, FCC rep on spectrum committee



Photo of Doug Brake from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2022—Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alan Davidson on Friday named staff representatives to participate on each other’s advisory committees. The effort is a component of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative of the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department.

As part of the initiative, the agencies are working with each other and the private sector.

“To succeed as spectrum partners, the FCC and NTIA must hear from and listen to each other in both formal and informal ways,” said Rosenworcel.

“A common understanding of spectrum engineering and market conditions is essential for the success of our efforts at the FCC and NTIA to manage the country’s spectrum resources,” said Davidson.

Rosenworcel named Jessica Quinley of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to participate as an observer in NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee. Quinley currently serves as an Acting Legal Advisor in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. She was an attorney at NTIA for more than four years.

Davidson named Douglas Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist, and Timothy May, a Senior Advisor, to participate in the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council and its Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council, respectively.

Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist with NTIA, previously directed the broadband and spectrum policy work at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  May currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary where he has worked for four years.  Before joining NTIA, he was a Policy Analyst in the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

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