FCC Official Touts Utilities’ Role in Broadband
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 | Comments

An FCC official touted the role of utilities in broadband deployment at the 2018 Utilities Broadband Workshop of the Utilities Technology Council (UTC).

Jay Schwarz, wireline adviser to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said utilities are critical to broadband buildout even without providing it because utilities possess so much infrastructure needed to establish broadband connectivity.

Schwarz highlighted two ways the FCC and utilities could work together. The commission formed the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee with several utility representatives. “Our focus is on speeding up processes and cutting red tape that holds back deployment,” he said. “You can be sure that we respect the property owned by utilities, and we will not forget the safety concerns you have raised. In the end, we expect that this working group will generate reforms that will make it easier for all broadband providers to expand their networks.”

Schwarz also touted the upcoming Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The auction will also provide opportunities for new entrants, including rural telco, fixed wireless, satellite, cable, price cap and electric utility broadband providers, regardless of technology, a public notice said.

The auction is planned to begin in July, and applications are due on March 30. “Thanks in part to the advocacy of UTC, utilities will be able to participate in this auction,” Schwarz said. “Last month, Chairman Pai hosted UTC’s leadership at the commission to discuss the upcoming auction. And I’m here today on the chairman’s behalf to say that we want you to participate. The Connect America Fund is designed to support any technology that can meet our requirements for internet service, whether that’s fiber, a fixed wireless design or something else. So, we strongly encourage you to explore this opportunity and decide if it makes sense for the economic future of your utilities to put in a bid.”

The remarks didn’t include further details on the FCC’s proposed changes to 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) rules. Last year, the FCC requested comment on changes to the rules governing the second service tier, known as priority access licenses (PAL), of the band’s three-tier framework. Current PAL rules are helpful to spectrum-strapped critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities, while large carriers had requested changes that would benefit them.

In its comments, UTC specifically opposed extending the term of PALs to 10 years from three years and expanding the size of the geographic area of PALs to partial economic areas (PEAs), arguing in its comments that extending the term and expanding the geographic areas of PALs will make it difficult for smaller entities such as utilities to afford to acquire PALs.

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