November 13, 2015
PCCA Ratchets Up Advocacy Efforts with DC Visit
Kicking off PCCA's new government relations initiative, seven contractor members traveled to Washington, D.C., October 13-14, to expand and intensify PCCA's outreach to government and industry organizations. The contingent met with NTCA - the Rural Broadband Association, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), and the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) during their visit and held a conference call with the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Representing PCCA at these meetings were John Audi, MasTec North America; John Fluharty, Mears Group, Inc.; Jerrod Henschel, Michels Corp.; Todd Myers, Kenneth G. Myers Construction; Rob Pribyl, MP NextLevel, LLC; Steve Sellenriek, Sellenriek Construction, Inc.; Robin Gilbertson, J&R Underground, LLC; Mike Ancell, PCCA; and Eben Wyman, PCCA.
Following is a recap of this very successful event.
NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association
The PCCA group met first with NTCA, which represents approximately 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that serve rural communities across the country. NTCA members provide state-of-the-art internet service to rural consumers and are a major customer base of the PCCA membership. PCCA met with Tom Wacker, NTCA Vice President of Government Affairs, and several of his staff members.
PCCA and NTCA discussed the FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF), the RUS Telecommunications Program, FirstNet (an independent authority to provide emergency responders with a nationwide, high-speed broadband network dedicated to public safety), and the Broadband Opportunity Council (a government entity charged with engaging industry and other stakeholders to understand ways the Executive Branch can better support the needs of communities seeking broadband investment).
NTCA clearly saw the value of having the industry’s “job creators” participate in their lobbying efforts and invited PCCA to NTCA’s Telecom Executive Summit in Washington, D.C., November 15-17. Several members of PCCA’s government relations team (four contractors and two staff members) will participate in the event, including a Capitol Hill Day, where attendees will take to Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers on the issues involved in building the projects and employing the workers that deliver broadband all around the country.
Rural Utilities Service
PCCA has had a long and fruitful relationship with the RUS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so that was an obvious place for us to visit. The RUS works to improve economic opportunity through financing for electric power, communications, and other services for individuals and businesses in rural communities with a population of 20,000 or fewer. PCCA members work on projects that improve the quality of life for rural America through infrastructure improvements funded by RUS dollars, underscoring real-life benefits that come with the program.
The strength of the PCCA-RUS relationship was underscored by the key Telecommunications Program staffers selected to meet with our group: Assistant Administrator Keith Adams and Engineering Branch Chief Aylene Mafnas.
The PCCA-RUS group discussed the ongoing work to rewrite RUS contracts: the 515 (construction), 395 (equipment), and 773 (miscellaneous construction and maintenance). The 773 is a negotiated contract, and PCCA is developing a position paper that urges raising the limit of these contracts from $250,000 to $1 million. The group also discussed ways that PCCA can promote RUS programs on Capitol Hill and with other industry organizations. RUS appreciated our offer of vocal support of RUS and said they look forward to working with the association on a range of issues in the future.
PCCA is working to get a meeting with staff members of RUS’s Electric Program, which helps finance construction of electric distribution, transmission, and generation facilities, including repair and replacement projects to improve service in rural areas.
Federal Communications Commission
PCCA met briefly with Gigi Sohn, Counselor to the FCC Chairman, but it became clear that another meeting would be necessary with representatives of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau. That meeting is on November 16, and we plan to learn more about the Connect America Fund (CAF) and how to best promote the program and educate interested stakeholders.
The CAF came out of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) a few years ago, intended to eventually replace high-cost support systems. The high-cost program within the existing USF provides subsidies to telecommunications carriers that serve rural and other remote areas with high costs of providing telephone service. Several stipulations must be met in order to access CAF resources, including requirements that proposed service areas are high-cost and within the provider’s service area and that service providers demonstrate that they are taking reasonable steps to offer broadband throughout the entire service area.
Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration
Due to schedule conflicts, the PCCA contingent was unable to meet in Washington with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations subject to commercial drivers. However, we held a conference call on October 20 with Tom Yager, Chief of FMCSA's Driver and Carrier Operations Division, and members of his staff, to ensure that the power and communications industry fell under the exemption for “Utility Service Vehicles” from HOS requirements when responding to utility service calls to maintain and repair essential utility services.
As noted in a bulletin sent to PCCA members earlier this week, PCCA is pleased to report that utility vehicles maintained by contractors fall under the HOS exemptions, which apply when USV’s are “repairing, maintaining, or operating” utility facilities. (More detailed information will be provided in the Quarter 4 issue of the PCCA Journal.)