Having committed to employing competition in the telecommunications local exchange carrier (LEC) market to elicit the broadest range of service offerings while ensuring fair rates, state commissions are now establishing regulations to put the new policies into effect. Current investigations focus on the proper costing and rate-setting methods for interconnection and transport services among newly competing carriers.
Diverging from the position taken by regulators in other states in the region, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has rejected proposals by U S WEST Communications, Inc., a
telephone local exchange carrier, to sell certain local
exchanges to independent telephone companies. It approved, however, a proposal to sell one of U S WEST's exchanges to a telephone cooperative association. Re U S WEST Communications Inc., Case Nos. PRJ-T-94-1; USW-S-94-4, Order No. 26198, Oct. 18, 1995 (Idaho P.U.C.).
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on "Standards of Communication Among Natural Gas Pipeline Companies and their Customers" (Docket No. RM96-1-000). At the same time, Commissioner James J. Hoecker urged the natural gas industry to continue its voluntary efforts to develop standards for electronic bulletin boards (EBBs). Commissioner Vicky A. Bailey agreed that the gas industry should take the lead, but warned that it has only a limited window of opportunity before the FERC takes over. Commissioner Donald F. Santa, Jr.
One of my first assignments when I was a reporter for this magazine was a story on the flap over the Environmental Protection Agency's 1990 draft report on electromagnetic fields (EMF).
State regulators continue to update methods of pricing telecommunications services, using price caps for local exchange carriers (LECs) while expanding existing pricing flexibility for interexchange carriers (IXCs). The emerging trend toward inviting competitors to serve the local market, including basic local exchange service, also continues. Some of the activity mirrors ongoing developments at the federal level, such as major regulatory reforms under debate in the Congress and court-supervised modifications to existing service restrictions stemming from the AT&T divestiture.
When the Salt River Project (SRP) held a series of focus groups in 1994, one participant said he related to our products and services, and felt he received good value for his monthly payments. Unfortunately, a few questions later, we discovered that he did not live in our service area, his bill was higher than he thought, and he wasn't particularly pleased after all.
We were more than a little taken aback.
Question: What is your relationship with the state legislature? Do lawmakers in your state show interest in utility regulation? Should PUCs work more closely with state legislatures?Response by Boyce Griffith, Chairman, West Virginia Public Service Commission:
The West Virginia PSC's relationship with the legislature is good. The West Virginia legislature has been active in utility regulation. I believe West Virginia utilities already work closely with the legislature and will continue to do so.
State and federal regulators and the industries we regulate have donned life jackets. It's as if we are boating down the unexplored Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell1 in 1869. We share a vague vision of what lies at the mouth of the canyon, but the rapids are treacherous and uncharted.
On the river, boatmen and women often scout the tough rapids from the shore. Back on the river, they carefully set themselves up at the proper position and angle, then apply deft, sometimes powerful, strokes at crucial moments.
The costs of providing telephone service to rural America are much higher than for more urban areas of the country. By definition, small rural subscribers are scattered throughout large geographic areas. In rural areas, the average number of subscribers per route mile runs about 6.3; the average number of subscribers per square mile is 4.4.
In electric power, telecommunications, water, and natural gas, the costs of local distribution make up a significant share of the cost of providing services. For any network or system, the cost of distribution facilities is largely or entirely independent on usage; i.e., such costs are largely invariant to the number of phone calls, kilowatts, British thermal units (BTUs), or gallons that customers use.