The House Finance Committee acted in the public's best interest when it removed from a simple regulatory extension bill several provisions favoring Alaska Communications Systems.
House Bill 111 was originally a one-page bill designed to do nothing but extend the life of the state's utilities regulatory body, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. It quickly blossomed into an eight-pager that would have put the Legislature in the middle of Alaska's long-running telephone war.
The committee restored the bill to its simple idea to simply extend the life of the regulatory panel, which would otherwise enter a shutdown period beginning this summer. The extension came at the request of Gov. Frank Murkowski.
ACS, the state's largest telephone company, argues that rulings from the regulatory panel regarding GCI's access do not allow it to make a profit. ACS, they say, is essentially subsidizing GCI's local service. That sounds like a quest for more money from consumers.
The Finance Committee dropped the eight pages of ''fixes'' put forward by ACS, changes that included such troubling provisions as allowing rates to be increased without approval from regulators and charging higher fees of GCI.
ACS officials have long complained that the regulatory panel consistently issues rulings that favor GCI, its chief telecommunications rival. But their complaints now seem misplaced. Since taking office, the governor has appointed three new members ... to the RCA. It seems these new members should be given a chance to discuss the difficult issues that confront the telecommunications industry in Alaska.
To resolve concerns, the governor's staff has promised to work with industry representatives who have gripes about the present regulatory system. That's a better way than approving a series of hastily written provisions with little understanding by the public and perhaps by the legislators who must cast votes on the bill.
Competition is good for the consumer. But until its introduction has taken root and the proper forces have developed, it must be nurtured by an outside entity such as the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. The company that previously held the market monopoly will often complain about being forced to make room for another.
To have approved measures such as those that aimed to benefit ACS would, as one assistant attorney general warned lawmakers, guarantee ''another bloody chapter in Alaska's phone war.''
That's not where the state wants to be.
The House Finance Committee's rejection of these ACS amendments and its decision to simply reauthorize the regulatory agency for an additional four years is therefore a welcome action. The full Legislature should follow suit, as the governor has requested.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - May 14
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