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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 13, 2021

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.

MPSC APPROVES I&M POWER SUPPLY COST RECOVERY

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.

MPSC ADOPTS RECOMMENDATIONS ON MUTUAL AID AGREEMENTS AMONG NATURAL GAS UTILITIES

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.

CONSUMERS ENERGY ONE-TIME VOLUNTARY REFUND APPROVED

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.

MPSC DENIES ALTERNATIVE GAS SUPPLER LICENSE FOR GAS BUNNY LLC

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.

MPSC SEEKS COMMENT ON UTILITY POLE ACCESS FOR WIRELESS SERVICES

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 mpscedockets@michigan.gov. Those needing assistance prior to filing may contact MPSC Staff at 517-284-8090 or mpscedockets@michigan.gov.

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 www.Michigan.gov/MPSC, 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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