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Broadband Breakfast Club Environmental Session Prompts Debate Over Systems Reliability

WASHINGTON, November 11, 2009 – The creation of a “smart grid” for electricity conservation may lead to parallel telecommunications networks by both utilities and traditional telephone communications providers; whether or not this was a positive development was debated at the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday.

The “smart grid” enables communications about electric transmissions over that electric infrastructure. Broadband, or high-speed internet access, has traditionally occurred over telephone, cable or wireless networks.

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WASHINGTON, November 11, 2009 – The creation of a “smart grid” for electricity conservation may lead to parallel telecommunications networks by both utilities and traditional telephone communications providers; whether or not this was a positive development was debated at the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday.

The “smart grid” enables communications about electric transmissions over that electric infrastructure. Broadband, or high-speed internet access, has traditionally occurred over telephone, cable or wireless networks.

Broadband over power lines (BPL) is a form of internet access over the electric infrastructure.

All of these technologies are competing for consumers and business customers.

Whether utilities will continue to use electric lines for transmitting BPL, or shift to fiber-optics or wireless infrastructures – whether self-built or managed by traditional carriers like Verizon Communications and AT&T – prompted debate at the November breakfast club, on “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: The Environment.”

Kevin Moss, head of corporate social responsibility at BT Americas, said that telecommunications hoped to provide communicative capabilities as utilities need more of it to satisfy “smart grid” requirements.

But Cynthia Brumfeld, director of research for the Utilities Telecom Council, said that utility companies require that communications systems exhibit a high degree of reliability. They may not be allowed to fail even during “acts of God,” such as hurricanes. Verizon and AT&T have been unable to make such assurances, she said.

Another major facet of breakfast club discussion concerned the benefits of broadband-enabled teleworking upon the environment.

Jennifer Thomas Alcott, program manager at Telework!VA in the Commonwealth of Virginia, said that teleworking does not necessarily mean that a person will work on full-time basis at home. Most of the regular telecommuters work from their homes one or two days in a week.

“Up to 98 per cent of employees’ carbon footprint usually comes from commuting to and from work,” said Alcott. Further, besides saving energy on commuting costs, individual workers consume less energy from home, she said.

“Teleworking reduces by up to half the amount of energy used when working from the office. This can provide a survival strategy for companies.”

Unfortunately, many managers have not been keen to implement telecommuting for fear that they will lose their jobs, said Stephen Ruth, professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.

“Many managers do not like the idea of telecommuting, despite the fact that it cuts on tons of carbon emissions,” said Ruth.

Other than the fear of change to traditional management structures, the spotty coverage of broadband availability also makes telecommuting more of a struggle in certain portions of the nation – and even in populous suburban suburbs like Northern Virginia, said Alcott.

Ruth also offered his observations on obstacles to distance learning. He said that university professor are not enthusiastic about setting up systems to facilitate remote education.

Alcott and Ruth both urged the federal government to enforce existing laws promoting teleworking, so as to bring it up to par with the private sector.

Editor’s Note: Video of the November Broadband Breakfast Club will be available shortly. To register for the December 8, 2009, Broadband Breakfast Club, “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: Bridging the Digital Divide,” go to http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

An intern at the National Journalism Center, Mercy was a Reporter-Researcher for BroadbandCensus.com until November 2009. She was a business reporter on leave from the Daily Nation of Nairobi, Kenya. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Education from Daystar University in Nairobi.

FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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