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Internet Mavericks: Still Working Out of the Garage?

e-Commerce is consolidating, but there's room for the little guys too.
Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 2000

and compared individually. Data can be compiled for an industrial user's fleet of factories across the country, all at Internet speed.

Graves, a former commissioner at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, joined Automated Energy in January after working for a law firm and doing aggregation work for a school board association.

Has your experience as a utility regulator helped you in e-commerce?

Well, I describe myself as a recovering regulator [laughs]. I think it's helpful in a sense that what we're not doing is deregulation in the traditional sense of the business. It's a restructuring, and there's always going to be this component of regulation/public policy. It's legitimate that we have to deal with it, and I think it helps to have an understanding of that. I know people like to bash regulators, but there are legitimate concerns and policies, and they're going to be cautious and err on the side of protecting consumers rather than just throwing the doors open to markets.

What we have to do is have an understanding of that concern—to make sure that as we try and open markets, we allow customers to take advantage of market opportunities instead of [regulators] having to worry about protecting them all the time.

How does your product help customers to help themselves?

What we do, in its distilled or essential version, is provide the detailed billing for the industry using the Internet. The way we describe it to people is that we ask them, "How would you assess your long distance or your cellular calling plan." You might get a bill that said 685 minutes, but wait a minute_how many on-peak minutes did I have, and how many off-peak minutes? If I'm supposed to have a certain number of free incoming minutes, and some of my minutes on the weekend are supposed to be free, how do I know if that works? How do I compare prices if Verizon sends me an offer to change my service, but I don't really know how I'm consuming it?

You can't make a comparison in today's market. Consumers don't have access to that kind of detailed consumption data. Our goal and objective is to provide the technology and systems solutions that allow consumers to be able to access their consumption data on a regular, on-demand basis.

At the heart of your business seems to be the issue of the consumers' right to have access to their own data.

We believe very strongly that the information that comes off that meter belongs to the customer. And the customer ought to control where that data goes. If they want to send it to you, as a power marketer, so you can try and aggregate it with 1,500 people in the neighborhood, then that's great. If they don't want to give it to anybody and they want to continue to buy standard offer from the utility, that's fine, because when you get down to it, particularly at the residential level, consumption of electricity can show a lot about people's lifestyles. There are large industrial consumers that closely