TR’s State Newswire
The Public Utilities Commission should maintain its decision to categorize the investigation recently opened into the proposed merger of AT&T, Inc., and T-Mobile West Corp. as “ratesetting,” said several parties to the proceeding.
Regulators earlier this month determined to open an investigation that will specifically look into merger-specific effects on competition and service, including backhaul and special access. The PUC said it would impose California-specific conditions on the deal if it finds such conditions are necessary to preserve the public interest (06/09/11).
In an appeal filed on June 17 of the PUC’s order opening an investigation, AT&T and T-Mobile are challenging the categorization of the investigation as ratesetting. According to the companies, ratesetting cases are “cases in which rates are established for a specific company, including, but not limited to, general rate cases, performance-based ratemaking, and other ratesetting mechanisms.”
Instead, this investigation should be categorized as quasi-legislative where “ex parte communications are allowed without restriction or reporting requirements,” AT&T and T-Mobile said. A quasi-legislative categorization is consistent with the purpose of the investigation which is to “investigate, gather, and analyze information, and with the broad industry participation required of parties,” they said.
In response, the California Association of Competitive Telecommunications Companies (CALTEL) said that the commission has properly exercised its discretion to categorize this proceeding as ratesetting since it doesn’t “fit squarely under the definitions of an adjudicatory proceeding, a quasi-legislative proceeding or a ratesetting proceeding.” Commission Rule 7.1(e)(2) requires a proceeding to be conducted “under the rules applicable to the ratesetting category” by default if a proceeding “does not clearly fit into any of the categories as defined in Rules 1.3(a), (d) or (e),” CALTEL noted.
Similarly, the Greenlining Institute said that this proceeding doesn’t fit into the definition of “quasi-legislative,” as it is not designed to establish policy or rules affecting an entire industry. In addition, Greenling said that the PUC’s assignment of the proceeding to the ratesetting category “does not in any way implicate or broaden the commission’s existing authority over wireless carriers, as the ratesetting category is simply the default category for proceedings that do not fit clearly into any category.”
Meanwhile, the Utility Reform Network pointed out that the PUC will be examining the effects of the merger of the entire telecom market in the state, not just the wireless market. TURN said that “other important issues are raised when considering AT&T Corporation as the acquirer, for example, the issue of providing backhaul facilities at reasonable rates with nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.” (Investigation 11-06-009) -Carrie DeLeon, firstname.lastname@example.org