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PUCs at 2000 - Question OneState Commissioners

Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1995

make decisions as to proper additions to rate base. Those decisions should be made by the marketplace. Our job will be to function as the gatekeeper and referee. It will be our job to make certain that all those players who wish to enter a market are able to do so, provided they meet certain entrance requirements. We will have to be vigilant in our efforts to make certain no new barriers to competition are erected. We will also have a responsibility to consumers. That responsibility will lie in making sure consumers understand fully their options in the new competitive marketplace. All of this assumes of course that we will move toward a competitive marketplace, that we will move toward a competitive model in the areas we regulate. While it is virtually certain this will occur with telecommunications, the jury is still out with respect to retail competition for natural gas and electric service. Thus, the only certainty is uncertainty. If we, as regulators, recognize that basic fact and respond to change in an appropriate fashion, I feel confident we will satisfy our statutory and constitutional obligations.

Response by Robert J. Hix, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission:

Barring catastrophe, the Colorado PUC still will be around in 2000. The PUC and its staff consist of dedicated professionals with many years of experience dealing with all the facets of utility industries we regulate. As Bob Dylan would say, "the times they are

a-changing." Public policy, customer needs (including the ability to make choices), technology, and finances are some of the forces driving change in the utility sectors regulated by state PUCs. As regulators, we need to position ourselves to facilitate changes that bring the benefits of emerging competition to as many customers as possible. Barriers to effective competition should be eliminated, and regulatory processes should be streamlined to efficiently serve the consumers and providers of utility services.

With regard to the structure of the Colorado PUC, our staff is currently evaluating various restructuring options to determine which one most results in a responsive regulatory agency, through which utilities and their customers can be best served. It is likely that the restructured PUC will place greater emphasis on enforcing quality and reliability of service. We will need a stronger section within staff to provide research, policy development, and advice directed toward specific cases. We will strengthen Consumer Affairs to ensure that utilities comply with the PUC's rules and regulations regarding customer rights and services.

A first effort is a proposed "Telecommunications Consumers' Bill of Rights in a Competitive Market." Ten issues have been identified with the intent of specifying basic consumer rights that should be satisfactorily protected under emerging competition. During September 1995, our PUC began statewide public meetings to receive comments about competition in the local telephone market and the proposed consumer rights. This level of effort logically will be extended into the natural gas and electric arenas as competition emerges for those retail markets in Colorado.

While the Colorado PUC currently is involved in several proceedings that address the major policy questions