FCC National Broadband Plan Seeks to Enhance Smart Grid and Smart Buildings
On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presented to Congress its long-anticipated National Broadband Plan (the “Plan”), as mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”). The Plan, while primarily focused on communication providers and issues, also contains recommendations that will be of interest to the energy industry, particularly those involved with the Smart Grid and smart homes and buildings. The Plan also makes recommendations regarding infrastructure deployment on utility poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way, as well as sustainable information and communications technology.
The Recovery Act directed the FCC to submit to Congress a National Broadband Plan “to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and [to] establish benchmarks for meeting that goal.”
As part of the Plan, the FCC was directed to ensure the “use of broadband infrastructure and services in advancing consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education, worker training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic growth, and other national purposes” (emphasis added). Please see our March 16, 2010, advisory for a detailed analysis of provisions in the Plan.
Smart Grid and innovation in smart homes and buildings
The Plan states that the deployment of Smart Grid technology is vitally important to America’s energy future, and proposes three parallel paths to pursue the Smart Grid:
- Enhancing existing commercial networks for the reliability required for Smart Grid applications;
- Permitting electric utilities to share the FCC’s proposed public safety mobile broadband network for mission-critical communications; and
- Empowering utilities to construct their own broadband networks.
The Plan’s specific recommendations include:
- States should require that electric utilities provide consumers with digital access to, and control of, their own energy use information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical data. If states do not act within 18 months, Congress should consider legislation to address these issues;
- States should reduce impediments and financial disincentives for utilities to use commercial service providers for Smart Grid communications;
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should adopt consumer digital accessibility and control standards as a model for the states, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) should provide updates on the progress of each state in enacting strong consumer data accessibility policies;
- The North American Energy Reliability Corporation should provide more explicit guidance about its Critical Infrastructure Protection system requirements to ensure that commercial or other shared networks for critical communications are suitable for grid control communications;
- The DOE, in collaboration with the FCC, should conduct a study of the communications requirements of electric utilities, including the requirements for the Smart Grid; and
- The Rural Utilities Services should make Smart Grid loans.
Infrastructure deployment: utility poles, ducts, conduit and rights-of-way
The Plan also recommends a number of actions regarding infrastructure deployment that may directly affect energy entities including lowering and standardizing pole access and rental rates, and establishing faster timelines for all utilities to grant access to poles, ducts, conduits and rights-of-ways. Recommendations include:
- Lowering the telecommunications pole rent by establishing a formula that yields rates similar to the cable television pole rate formula;
- Making changes to the pole attachment “make-ready” process through FCC rulemakings
- Creating timelines to govern every step of the pole attachment process;
- Establishing a better way to improve the collection from owners and the availability of information regarding the location and availability of poles, ducts, conduits and rights-of-way;
- Amending current law to establish minimum standards for a broadband access policy to all poles, ducts, conduits and rights-of-way, including those regulated by a state, or owned by a cooperative, municipality, or non-utility; and
- Creating a federal, state, Tribal and local task force to identify right-of-way best practices to speed deployment.
Sustainable information and communications technology
The Plan recommends that the FCC start a proceeding to improve the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the communications industry, and that the federal government should set a goal of earning the government’s Energy Star for all eligible data centers that it operates.
The issuance of the Plan is the beginning of a long process that will involve many proceedings before the FCC, state public utilities commissions, FERC, and other federal and state agencies. As described above, with regard to both infrastructure deployment and the Smart Grid, many of the key issues will be the responsibility of the individual states. In many cases, states already have begun exploring these issues.
The FCC will attempt to quickly establish a timetable to conduct proceedings on matters within its authority over the coming 12 to 18 months. The FCC staff estimates that the Plan will result in perhaps 40 different FCC proceedings during that period.