State regulators turn to telecom to salvage the clout they've lost in energy.
State public utility commissions now seem to spend more time on telecommunications than electricity or natural gas. That's their new power base. The telephone local loop marks the one place where state regulators still have clout.
To test that notion, let's see who attended last month's annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, held in San Antonio. By my count, out of the first 500 registered attendees, over 120 (24 percent) came from telecommunications firms. That figure nearly equals the 135 registrants (27 percent) who came from energy companies.
These numbers may explain why NARUC saved the prime spot in its closing program for William Kennard, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and not for an energy industry star like James Hoecker of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or a congressman pushing federal energy legislation.
That also may explain why Hoecker was not seen in San Antonio. Yet the chairman did travel to Albany, N. Y., the previous month to address the Northeast Interregional ISO Coordination Conference. That meeting, the first of its kind for electric transmission, was set up to help the New York, New England and PJM independent system operators iron out their differences before the FERC is tempted to do it for them by combining the three groups into a single mega-regional ISO. And that may yet happen, judging from Hoecker's remarks in Albany.