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MPSC grants licenses and eligible telecommunications carrier designations for companies to expand access to broadband internet in rural areas


Media Contact: Matt Helms 517-284-8300
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The Michigan Public Service Commission today approved?applications?by Thumb Electric Cooperative?of Michigan?for?first-time?designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier?(ETC), allowing the?co-op to?access federal funds for?the construction of broadband infrastructure in areas lacking access to high-speed internet.

The Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund?will provide up to $20.4 billion towards the expansion of broadband into unserved and underserved areas, with a focus on improving network speeds.

Thumb Electric and other rural electric cooperatives formed the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) to participate in the RDOF auction, and in December 2020 the NRTC was awarded?$59,402,901 to be used in Michigan to provide service to?44,534 locations over 10 years, a portion of which has been assigned to Thumb Electric, doing business as TEC Fiber.

The Commission today approved Thumb Electric's?application?for designation?as a?high-cost and Lifeline?ETC?(Case No. U-20962).?Concurrently, Thumb Electric sought a permanent license to provide basic local exchange phone service in its service territory, which the Commission also approved (Case No. U-20996).

In addition, the Commission approved a temporary license for?Starlink, to provide basic local exchange phone service in Michigan. The license approval is a required step toward ETC designation for?the?California company, a wholly owned subsidiary of SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur?and Tesla Inc. CEO?Elon Musk, to provide?satellite-based internet?in ?areas of Michigan?lacking access to high-speed broadband??(Case No. U-21035).?In November 2020,?the?FCC's?RDOF?auction awarded?SpaceX?$885 million to provide broadband and standalone voice services in 35?states, including $9,852,045 in Michigan.

The Commission also approved?expanded?ETC?carrier?designations?for two?other providers?-?Mercury Wireless Indiana LLC (Case No. U-20333),?Cherry Capital Connection LLC (Case No. U-20964)?-?and new ETC?designation for CenturyLink Communications LLC (Case No. U-21016).?These?approvals allow for expanded broadband coverage in?additional U.S. Census blocks that the FCC awarded to the companies?in the?RDOF auction?in December 2020?to improve access to broadband. RDOF?auction winners must use?the funding?to expand broadband and meet various broadband goals throughout the Census blocks while continuing to offer standalone voice service.


The MPSC today approved?Indiana Michigan Power Co.'s?(I&M)?power supply cost recovery (PSCR) plan?and the utility's five-year forecast?(Case No. U-20529).?The Commission?declined to?issue a Section 7 warning under?Public Act 304?MCL 460.6j(7)?to?the utility that?it may not recover the full costs?from its?inter-company power agreement?(ICPA)?with?an affiliate,?Ohio Valley Electric Corp.,?for wholesale electricity. But the Commission?said it would closely scrutinize?costs incurred under the contract, noting?I&M's?Code of Conduct responsibilities?including an?obligation to minimize costs. The Commission also?ordered I&M?to?provide?a?comprehensive analysis regarding the ICPA including a sensitivity with optimized resources to replace the ICPA relative?to its preferred course of action, as part of its 2021 integrated resource plan (IRP) filing. Michigan Attorney General Dana?Nessel?and the Sierra Club intervened in the case. MPSC Staff also participated.


The MPSC today accepted?reports?and recommendations from a work group?on mutual aid agreements between natural gas utilities, a?collaborative?created as part of the 2019?Statewide Energy Assessment?(Case No. U-20631).?The Assessment was conducted by the MPSC, at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's request after a?statewide energy emergency in 2019 in which?a fire at a utility compressor station in Macomb County disrupted natural gas delivery statewide. The Assessment's final report?made 37 recommendations, including?convening a workgroup of MPSC Staff experts and representatives of utilities, consumer organizations and other groups to?explore developing mutual aid agreements that could help safely restore natural gas outages as quickly as possible?as well as contingency planning for transmission of natural gas.?The MPSC directed the Staff to file a status report?on progress made including the interoperability between Michigan natural gas utilities by March 31, 2022.


The MPSC today approved?Consumers Energy Co.'s application for a one-time voluntary refund?of $28 million,?with spending?in 2021 and 2022?on programs that the Commission found will?enhance customer safety, education, and reliability?(Case No. U-20932). Consumers?proposed?incremental spending?on?electric service restoration; pipeline pressure testing;?gas and electric information technology infrastructure;?public outreach on?electric residential time-of-use rate implementation; a?Percentage Income Pilot Program?to assist low-income?customers,?and?a public service announcement on cold?weather?assistance?for customers.?Any of the refund amount not spent?on these programs?will be returned to customers through a bill credit the utility must detail?by March 31, 2022.?The?Michigan Department of Attorney General; Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity;?Residential Customer Group (RCG), Citizens Utility Board of Michigan?and MPSC Staff?participated in the case.


An application by Gas Bunny LLC to operate as an alternative gas supplier (AGS) was denied by the MPSC, citing?the company's lack of responsiveness to MPSC Staff, failure to provide information on its financial standing, and lack of experience serving as an AGS?(Case No. U-20974).?Gas Bunny applied for the license on Feb. 1, 2021, but did not provide information to demonstrate compliance with AGS license requirements including having the?necessary financial, managerial and technical capabilities to serve Michigan natural gas?customers. Gas Bunny canceled a March 1, 2021, meeting with MPSC Staff?and did not respond to?several attempts by Staff to?reschedule.


The MPSC today opened a docket (Case No. U-20980) seeking comment from interested stakeholders and other parties?to?address issues related to the use of utility poles, ducts, conduits and other rights-of-way by wireless service providers. ExteNet Systems Inc. filed a?petition?asking the MPSC to?initiate a proceeding to issue and make effective rules and?regulations implementing Michigan's regulatory?authority over wireless pole attachments.?The Commission seeks input on questions including whether MCL 460.6g applies to?wireless attachments?and?how costs would be assessed. Comments should reference Case No. U-20980 and must be received no later than 5 p.m. June 10, 2021.?Mail?comments to?Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909. ?Electronic comments may be e-mailed to? needing?assistance prior to filing?may contact MPSC?Staff at 517-284-8090 or?

To look up cases from today's meeting, access the?MPSC's?E-Dockets filing system.

Watch?recordings?of the MPSC's meetings?on the?MPSC's YouTube channel.

For information about the MPSC, visit?, sign up for its?monthly newsletter?or other?listservs, or follow the Commission on?Twitter?or?LinkedIn.

DISCLAIMER:?This document was prepared to aid the public's understanding of certain matters before the Commission and is not intended to modify, supplement, or be a substitute for the Commission's orders. The Commission's orders are the official action of the Commission.

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