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Commissioners See Potential Up Sides for Utilities in 900 MHz Reorganization

Randy Sukow / May 14, 2020

The FCC’s decision yesterday to make a portion of the 900 MHz band (896-901/935-940 MHz) available for new broadband wireless uses will affect many industries, including electric power companies holding 900 MHz licenses for various narrowband applications. The Report and Order they adopted includes provisions for incumbents to negotiate transition terms before moving off the band. However, the commissioners dwelled on the new applications that broadband capacity will create, especially smart grid and other uses for utilities.

“900 MHz users are enthusiastic about the possibilities that reliable broadband will open for them,” Chairman Ajit Pai said in his statement. “Utilities are eager to use broadband to modernize the electric grid.  Southern California Edison, a utility in a state hard-hit by fires in recent years, predicts that broadband will enable innovative monitoring technologies that will help utilities detect and extinguish fires caused by downed power lines.”

The enthusiasm for potential new technologies was bipartisan. Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said that “smart grid systems will smooth out spikes in usage before they happen, respond instantaneously to outages, and route power to customers in the most efficient manner, reducing consumption and emissions.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr’s statement noted potential wireless applications that could advance alternative energy. “Customers with solar panels could sell their excess energy back to the power company, sending it to neighbors efficiently and with some extra money in their pockets,” he said.

The commissioners’ reactions to the order were all in written form. They originally were to vote on the 900 MHz order during a public conference call yesterday. However, the Commission instead voted on all four agenda items for the meeting on circulation. During a brief pro forma conference call, Chairman Pai thanked the FCC staff that worked on the four items and announced several healthcare facilities around the nation that will be receiving federal telehealth funding to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

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