Thursday, November 04, 2004

BellSouth says LUS plans 'surprising'

The Advocate's Blanchard has a very informative story in this morning's paper. It covers the final filing of comments in the process of developing Public Service Commission rules to govern LUS' telecom services. Blanchard has writen on this before, in a very good opinion piece (no longer freely available but blogged here if you'd like to see a summary) which covered some pretty profound questions about the PSC's involvement. It's good to see that this crucial part of the developing story is being followed—by the Advocate.

Some background is in order; this whole issue is pretty obscure: Getting the PSC involved in rule-setting was mandated by Act 763 a law whose first draft was writen by BellSouth and was originally intended to simply prevent a municipal body from providing any telecom services to its citizens. It passed in a less onerous form but the intent to make life difficult for utilities like LUS remains. One way to do that was to get the PSC involved in regulating more services than it normally does and in the process exposing LUS to a regulatory regime which has a long-established chummy relationship with incumbent provider BellSouth. (The central purpose of putting the PSC in charge of rule-making was to make sure that LUS did not pass any tax savings it might get as a public entity onto its customers. Really. No, Really. I am not kidding. Your legislature at work.)

Blanchard's article tracks the first fruits of this strategy. Incumbent BellSouth tries for delay, using its insider position at the PSC to suggest that maybe LUS should be prevented from going forward until the PSC issues the rules under which it would operate. BellSouth, of course, has long experience with gaming the rules-making process and undoubtably understands just how it can influence that process and delay the final promulagation into the next decade if it tries really hard. The commission apparently saw through that one and hasn't gone for the bait. Expect rules in the first quarter of the coming year.

Cox, characteristically, went before the commission to argue for an "adversary" process that would involve both cost and delay. Charming, aren't they? Since Cox's Internet and Cable services are not regulated by the PSC it had to suggest that LUS' unique state-level layer of regulation be governed by FCC rules. That is a weird suggestion since FCC rules are notable for being so minimal as to not have any real regulatory bite in controlling business decisions the way that state commission normally do. The fact that Cox is going in requesting adversary relations (requesting!) makes it is fairly sure that they will actually advocate something that their opponents will consider, well, adversarial. The commission didn't fall for that little bit of spleen either. The rule-making process will go forward normally.

There is a very interesting nugget in this story; one I hadn't considered the implications of but which could have very interesting consequences:

"So while the PSC will set up the rules for LUS to follow in cable and Internet, the actual rules enforcement in those areas will be carried out by the state Legislative Auditor's Office."

The state auditor is going to enforce regulations in Lafayette concerning internet and cable! The auditor? With what expertise? Only in Louisiana. Watch all this for very weird politics.


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