California PUC Issues Decision in Emergency Preparedness Rulemaking
On Sept. 8, 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a Decision Addressing Standards for Telecommunications Backup Power Systems and Emergency Notification Systems Pursuant to Assembly Bill 2393 (“Decision”).1 The Decision, which concludes the first phase of the Commission's Emergency Preparedness Order Instituting Rulemaking, addresses five issues: (1) standards for backup power installed on customer premises; (2) standardization of emergency notification systems and protocols; (3) standards for backup power on telecommunications networks; (4) implementation of FCC Best Practices for backup power systems; and (5) use of backup systems that do not emit greenhouse gases.
As discussed in this advisory, although the Commission will continue to monitor all of these issues, it does not recommend any new state standards or protocols at this time, and in general, advocates conformance of any new state standards with federal standards. This Decision constitutes a change from the proposed decision released by Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon on May 9, 2008, which expressed the Commission's intention of requiring service providers to maintain at least eight hours of backup power on customer premises.
Backup batteries installed on customer premises
Traditional telephone networks, comprised of copper wire, provide backup power using generators and batteries located within the network. Modern communications networks that utilize fiber optic and co-axial cable, however, employ a distributed backup power system, with backup power located both within the network and on the customer premises.
AB 2393 requires that the Commission investigate standards regarding backup power on customer premises, but requires it to implement such standards only if the benefits exceed the costs. The Commission found that it did not have sufficient information to make this determination because the record before it addressed only the costs of imposing the standards; it did not quantify benefits. Moreover, the Commission recognized that the FCC has established federal standards, presently on appeal, and that these federal standards would greatly impact the cost/benefit analysis. For these reasons, the Commission declined to issue any new state standards regarding backup power on customer premises, but left the issue open for further consideration. It also ordered further investigation regarding customer education of on-premises backup power.
Standardization of emergency notification systems and protocols
AB 2393 requires that the Commission investigate whether the state should establish standardized emergency notification systems and protocols. The Commission determined that some standards and protocols are necessary to ensure that federal, state and local emergency notification systems are able to interact with one another. It noted, however, that the FCC is presently developing federal standards, and that any new state standards must be compatible with the federal standards. On that basis, the Commission declined to establish separate state standards, but stated that it would continue to monitor the issue.
Standards for backup power on telecommunications networks
AB 2393 requires the Commission to determine the need for backup power systems located within the network. The Commission found that service providers have recognized the need for such backup power and typically have in place backup power systems that provide 24 hours of backup power at the central office and four to eight hours of backup at remote terminals. The Commission further noted that after AB 2393 was signed into law, the FCC passed an order requiring LECs and CMRS providers to have 24 hours of emergency backup power for central offices and eight hours for cell sites, remote switches and digital loop carrier system remote terminals. Based on this record, the Commission determined that California should actively participate in the further development and implementation of the federal standards and declined to establish new state standards.
Implementation of FCC Best Practices
The Best Practices are a set of recommendations regarding system design, construction and operation that are intended to ensure the reliability and interoperability of telecommunications networks. There are 98 Best Practices related to power for all segments of the telecommunications industry. In furtherance of its obligations under AB 2393, the Commission distributed questionnaires to California wireline, wireless and cable providers to determine whether Best Practices are currently being met.
Based on the responses, the Commission found that implementation rates for the Best Practices are 98 percent for large LECs, 73 percent for small LECs, 91 percent for wireless, and 93 percent for cable. Although noting some “room for improvement” with small LECs, and ordering some additional investigation with respect to them, the Commission found that the data demonstrated “substantial implementation” of the Best Practices and did not recommend implementation of any new “incentive mechanisms.”
Zero-emission backup systems
The Commission investigated the cost/benefit of requiring providers to use backup systems that do not emit greenhouse gases and determined that the costs exceed the benefits. The benefit is low, because backup power is used infrequently. At the same time the cost of fuel cell systems is substantially higher than that of diesel systems.
1 Assembly Bill 2393, signed into law on Sept. 29, 2006, added Sections 776, 2872.5 and 2892.1 to the California Public Utilities Code.