No clear consensus has emerged. Should regulators hold to a hard line?
Regulators have wrestled for decades with transactions between vertically integrated monopoly utilities and their...
customer response to prices. I submit that the end of this decade may very well see a customer backlash against utility mega-mergers, higher rates to pay for acquisitions, and poorer customer services from anorexic utilities that slimmed down too much.
Regulation came into existence when the public rebelled against the prices and services of the railroad barons who controlled the main transportation system of the 19th century. I submit that as we approach 2000 an indignant public may once again demand regulation over industries that control the Information Highway - the significant transportation system of this new age. If the masses do not have access to the affordable telecommunication services and energy rates enjoyed by the rich and the business community,
customers may very well storm the legislative and congressional halls demanding stronger regulation. They will be asking for the 21st century version of the protection originally instituted by the Interstate Commerce Commission in the 1800s - old fashioned protection like common carriage, tariffed prices, and nondiscriminatory offerings to small and large customers alike.
Whether conventional wisdom prevails and regulation withers, or my guess of reenergized regulation comes to pass, is entirely in the hands of the captains of industry. If they proceed to merge into ever bigger monopolies under guise of preparing for regulation, they may very well assure full employment for regulators. If industry continues on a path where more energy is spent on merging than on serving customer needs - due to downsizing, shutting offices, and centralizing in distant centers - then the public will cry out: "If you don't serve well, then you must be regulated" (my apologies to Johnny Cochrane). Regulation came into being to protect against corporate excess and greed, and that same type of monopolistic behavior could revive regulation. We are ready, willing, and able to fulfill our historic obligation to the public.
You ask whether our PUC is moving with the same fervor toward restructuring as we are in overseeing the industry. I have to admit we have not yet purchased a Purple Cross burial policy on our agency. We are looking at our functions and budgets to ensure they are appropriate for our statutory responsibilities. Frankly, we aren't devoting as much energy to introspection and contemplating our regulatory navel because we have no shortage of work to keep us and our staff busy. Utilities still want more money, and a number of policy dockets open to our agency and at the federal level keep us occupied. [End of McCaffree response]
Response by Steve Ellenbecker, Chairman, Wyoming Public Service Commission:Yes, the Wyoming PSC will be alive and functioning with real purpose in 2000. We are now taking needed steps to reshape our regulatory model to recognize new realities in regulated industries. We are deemphasizing traditional command-and-control regulation in favor of providing a wider range of needed services to utility customers and encouraging the development of effective competition. We have reexamined and restated our agency's mission, philosophy, and goals in a strategic planning process that was the catalyst for a complete restructuring of our office.