PUCO made right decision

Published 11:11 am Friday, January 2, 2009

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio made the right decision earlier this week when it put the brakes on a request by a local phone company that would grant the company almost unlimited freedom to raise rates as it sees fit.

Now, we hope the agency takes the next step to fully deny Verizon’s request for “alternative regulation,” a move that would have lead to a monthly increase for Chesapeake customers and also would have paved the way for more increases whenever the company chooses.

Alternative regulation essentially allows any utility to increase rates at will without getting PUCO approval beforehand — as long as that utility can prove it functions in a competitive business environment and that there are no barriers to the entry of other competitors.

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Although there limits on how much the company can increase rates for various services, we agree with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel that this could be a dangerous step as far as Ohio’s residents are concerned.

Verizon officials say the primary reason for the request is to allow the company the flexibility to respond quickly to changes in a highly competitive market.

Those concerns are understandable but we remain adamant that alternative regulation simply opens the door to systematic hikes that would drastically affect Ohio consumers and defeat the purpose of PUCO, an agency designed to “assure Ohioans adequate, safe, and reliable public utility services at a fair price. More recently, the PUCO gained responsibility for facilitating competitive utility choices for Ohio consumers.”

At least for now, the issue will just stay on the back burner since PUCO did not state any reason for the suspension of Verizon’s or offer a date when it would reconsider the item.

Putting it hold was a good move, but we hope PUCO looks very closely at the issue of alternative regulation.