ENTELEC Launches New Regulatory Committee

May 2011, Vol. 238 No. 5

Joel Prochaska, President, ENTELEC

The Energy Telecommunications and Electrical Association (“ENTELEC”) has formed a new “Regulatory Committee” to address regulatory developments of interest to ENTELEC’s membership throughout the energy industry. All members of ENTELEC – end-users and vendors alike – are invited to join the new committee.

The basic purpose of ENTELEC is to advance knowledge and ideas concerning telecommunications, automation, electrical power, information processing systems, and other electrical and electronic facilities in the energy industry.

The Regulatory Committee will enable ENTELEC to address these issues on the regulatory front through the leadership of Tom Frobase, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, and Bill Carter, El Paso Corporation.

Because ENTELEC’s membership consists of both end-users and vendors in the energy industries, ENTELEC hopes to fill a regulatory void that is not being addressed by other associations.

The committee expects to speak with a broad voice by leveraging its unique combination of energy companies, manufacturers, and service providers in a common forum to focus on telecommunications issues affecting the entire industry. Other regulatory issues may be considered by the Committee, as well.

The association will prioritize its regulatory agenda during the ENTELEC 2011 Conference & Expo from May 24-26 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Some of the pending regulatory issues facing telecom professionals in the energy industries and under consideration by the ENTELEC Regulatory Committee follow:

Lack Of Spectrum
Energy companies are moving toward IP connectivity, implementing advanced communications systems and becoming more dependent on automation to provide their services safely, reliably and efficiently.

Radio spectrum will be a key component in the development of these advanced systems, enabling the use of mobile and fixed wireless communications technologies that are potentially more cost-effective, scalable, reliable and secure than other technologies or services.

Although access to spectrum is critical to the oil and gas industry, electric utilities and other Critical Infrastructure Industry (“CII”) companies, it is becoming progressively more difficult to obtain.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems primarily devoted to satisfying the spectrum needs of commercial providers and consumer applications in urban areas, so the requirements of CII companies sometimes go unrecognized.

As a result, telecommunication professionals in the energy industries may be placed in a position of balancing efficiency, risk and security with limited spectrum tools available.

Broadband Coverage
While typical corporate workers often live in areas with 3G/4G cellular, Wi-Fi, DSL, cable modems and other sources for broadband connectivity, energy industry telecommunication professionals – many of whom operate in remote and rural environments – are in a more difficult situation.

Telecom professionals responsible for power line and pipeline operations in rural and remote locations, for instance, confront significant communications challenges but often have limited broadband options on hand to optimize productivity, safety and security.

Intrinsically Safe Radios
Factory Mutual, which sets standards for the use of radios in certain high risk areas, is implementing a new approval standard for “intrinsically safe” devices. It is unlikely that equipment meeting the new standard can be designed and certified through the FCC and FM Approvals process by the Jan. 1, 2012 deadline.

Even if equipment were available by the deadline, the redesign of existing systems, implementation, migration and user training may require several additional years in the energy industry. For all practical purposes, it may be nearly impossible for the industry to meet the Jan. 1, 2012 deadline.

Narrowbanding Transition
For a number of years, the FCC has publicized its upcoming deadlines for private radio users to transition their radio equipment to narrowband technologies on certain VHF and UHF frequencies.

Even though all operations must be narrowband or satisfy the FCC’s data efficiency standards by Jan. 1, 2013, many energy companies still appear to be unaware of the FCC’s requirements or have not yet taken the necessary steps to convert according to the FCC’s schedule.

The FCC has authorized LightSquared, a mobile satellite service licensee, to operate terrestrial facilities on frequencies adjacent to those used for Global Positioning Systems. Many energy companies rely on GPS and need to be assured of its continued availability. Several groups, including the Department of Defense, have raised concerns regarding potential interference to GPS from LightSquared.

AT&T’s proposal to acquire T-Mobile will require approval by both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. Unknown at this point is the impact of the proposed acquisition on communications options, alternatives and pricing in the energy industry.

Environmental Assessments
Historically, the FCC has focused its environmental compliance efforts on cellular, broadcast and other commercial tower owners, not on private radio licensees such oil and gas pipelines and electric utilities. 

A year or so ago, however, an oil and gas company was cited by the FCC for a violation related to tower construction in a protected area. Additional enforcement activities may be under way.

This limited list of open issues is not intended to be exclusive but rather to highlight the diverse nature of regulatory proceedings facing ENTELEC members and telecom professionals in the energy industries. The ENTELEC Regulatory Committee is seeking suggestions from its members on how best to respond to these regulatory developments.

All Corporate and Associate members of ENTELEC are eligible and welcome to join the Regulatory Committee. Members joining by May 24, 2011, will be deemed “Charter Members.”

For further information on joining the ENTELEC Regulatory Committee, contact Blaine Siske (blaine@entelec.org; 888-503-8700 ext. 203) or visit www.entelec.org.

Author’s Note:
Joel Prochaska
is SCADA Telecom Supervisor for Enbridge Inc. in Houston. He has been employed with Enbridge for the last 10 years.

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