House energizes debate over utility regulatory agency

Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- As the clock winds down for the state agency that regulates utilities and telephone companies, a House panel on Saturday tried to revive it.

A bill to reauthorize the Regulatory Commission of Alaska until 2006 has been stuck in a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, since April.

The House Rules Committee on Saturday attached the measure to an unrelated bill -- effectively sidestepping Taylor's committee -- and could vote on it within days.

The move could set up a fight with Taylor and other key Republicans opposed to extending the life of the commission. Taylor said he is opposed to the House action and will fight it.

He accused Gov. Tony Knowles of working to engineer the amendment that would bring the matter for a vote in the Senate.

In a letter to Taylor written last week, Knowles threatened a special session if the Legislature does not vote on the measure. The measure passed the House 35-1.

The commission's reauthorization bill has been hampered by a dispute with Alaska Communications Systems. ACS president Wes Carson has said the company has problems with rulings in which the RCA refused to allow ACS to charge its competitors higher prices for access to its lines.

Commission decisions have unfairly favored ACS' main competitor in the local phone market, General Communication Inc., and the Legislature should wait until a state-funded study of the telecommunications industry is completed before acting, Carson said.

Taylor echoed those comments on Saturday, saying the Legislature should more closely examine the performance of the agency.

The commission was set up in 1999 after the Alaska Public Utilities Commission was dissolved. The RCA oversees telephone companies and water, sewer and electrical utilities.

Unless the Legislature reauthorizes it this year, the agency will enter a one-year shutdown beginning July 1.

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