THE OLD ADAGE ABOUT INNOVATION STILL HOLDS TRUE: "You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs." More than 70 municipal utilities have either built or plan to build telecommunications systems with fiber-optic and coaxial cable to compete against local cable television, data communications or telephony providers. Profitability for these ventures has been abysmal, but their customers and regulators are happy. Now large, investor-owned electric utilities are stumbling down the same trail marked with cast-off bandages of these early pioneers.
DURING THE WEEK OF June 22 there was a major imbalance between supply and demand for electricity in the Midwest. Although demand was high enough to set a few records, the real problem may have been the lack of supply. Many generators were out of service and a few marketers reneged on contracts to deliver power. Market prices for bulk power allegedly soared as high as $4,000 per megawatt-hour. The industry was left in an uproar over these volatile prices, especially since a competitive market has been touted as a means to achieve lower prices, not higher ones.
may be less than healthy, unless you're ready to replace them with technology.
As competition intensifies, increasing numbers of executives are realizing that customer service may have a more important role now than just placating regulators. After all, the broad spectrum of customer service is the principal way (em other than rates (em to differentiate a utility product and the utility itself.
Everybody's talking about electric utilities dabbling in telecommunications. That's fine. But how about vice versa? Maybe what we've really got is telephone companies (and cable television, too) getting into energy. That's different.
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