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June 11, 2002 The Anchorage Daily News on regulatory commission reauthorization

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

The Legislature's fight over renewing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska isn't your stereotypical consumer-vs.-business battle. The state's one and only consumer group, AkPIRG, supports the renewal, of course. What's also striking is the roster of business interests that want to see the commission continue its work uninterrupted.

Earlier this month, the Anchorage Homebuilders' Association published its case for keeping the commission. The example it gave was telling.

The group's members were told by the local phone company that the only phone service available for newly built houses is wireless. Old-fashioned run-a-wire-from-the-nearest-pole phone service is no longer available.

And if the wireless service is sketchy at best and downright useless for the Internet? Well, hey, that isn't the phone company's problem.

Customers rebelled at being forced to take an inferior form of service. Houses with only wireless phones simply would not sell. The Alaska Homebuilders Association went to the commission for help and eventually came away with a satisfactory resolution.

The home builders group is just one of many businesses that need a smoothly functioning commission. During the recently ended legislative session, when the commission was held hostage and ultimately left in limbo, every major utility save one endorsed some kind of timely renewal.

The one utility that didn't?

The same company that tried to stick Anchorage home builders with wireless-only phone service.

Alaska Communications Systems has convinced state Sen. Robin Taylor and Senate President Rick Halford to force the regulatory commission into limbo, despite the overwhelming political support for renewal and the lack of any case for major changes, or even for further study.

Keeping the commission going is the reason the Legislature has to come back for a special session later this month. The session needn't last long -- if Sens. Taylor and Halford will quit being obstructionist and do the responsible thing.



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