Appendix A Telecommunications Terminology
The Telecommunications industry is famous for its vast number of acronyms and terms of art. The following terms are defined, as used in this document:
Access Line is a two way, voice grade circuit which allows connection to the telecommunications network. A number of instruments can be connected to one access line but only one can be operated at a time (such as telephone, fax machine, computer modem or extension telephone).
ADAD is an Automatic Dialing and Announcing Device that automatically calls and announces a recorded message to the subscriber.
AOS is Alternative Operator Service. To provide operator service requires a license from the Commission. If the operator service provider is someone other than a LEC or IXC, then they are called Alternative Operator Service Providers.
CLEC is a Competing Local Exchange Carrier who has a certificate to provide local exchange service in an area currently served by an incumbent LEC.
COCOT is a Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone. Independent providers own and operate coin operated telephones under certificates granted by the Georgia Public Service Commission.
IXC is an interexchange carrier that provides access to the long distance network. A company can be both a LEC and an IXC.
LEC is a local exchange company that provides the access line to the subscriber. The LEC provides local two-way voice service, including touch tone, call forwarding, and other enhanced services. An ILEC is one of the incumbent local phone companies not affiliated with BellSouth.
TSOE is Telephone Service Observing Equipment which employers can use to monitor the telephone calls of their employees and customers. Such equipment must be licensed by the Commission.
Universal Access Fund is a statutory state fund that is used to phase down the intrastate access charges to interstate levels by giving a subsidy to LECs for providing local telephone service below cost. The fund is administered by the Georgia Public Service Commission.
Appendix BTelecommunications Industry in Georgia
Telecommunications is an industry vital to the economy of the state and to the quality of life of our citizens. Almost every family has a telephone (94%). There are over 3,800,000 access lines in Georgia and the number is growing dramatically as more homes and businesses add multiple lines for fax, computer modems, and Internet access. Total intrastate revenue from the end user in Georgia is in excess of $2.5 billion. The PSCs Telecommunications Section handles telecommunications matters in conjunction with other units of the Commission, such as its Consumer Affairs Office.
The Georgia Public Service Commissions role in this vital industry is determined by Georgias Telecommunications and Competition Development Act of 1995 (O.C. G. A. §46-5-160 et seq.) and the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The primary goal of both of these authorities is to replace regulated monopoly service with a competitive market. The PSC has created a Telecommunications Strategic Planning Team that proposes and ultimately executes approved plans for the regulatory changes necessary to implement these laws. As Georgia has moved to a competitive market, the Commission has certificated 86 alternate local exchange providers, 537 resellers, 152 AOS providers, 33 Interexchange Carriers, and 575 COCOT providers. The Commission has also resolved 4 arbitration cases and approved 256 interconnection agreements. The Commission has continued to administer a Universal Access Fund and ordered further reductions in rates for intrastate tolls. The Commission has completed implementation of HB 888, which further expanded the availability of Extended Area Service (EAS) by approximately 750 routes.
Both the state and federal Acts provide the framework for the strategic direction for telecommunications. In passing the state Act, the Georgia Legislature found that "[i]t is in the public interest to establish a new regulatory model for telecommunications services in Georgia to reflect the transition to a reliance on market-based competition as the best mechanism for the selection and provision of needed telecommunications services at the most efficient pricing." See O.C.G.A. §46-5-160(a)(1). In passing the federal Act Congress stated tat its purpose was "[t]o promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies."
O.C.G.A. §46-5-163 gives the Commission the authority to issue Certificates of Authority to competing local exchange carriers. Although the Commission currently issues Certificates of Authority to qualified applicants, granting the certificates is only the first step in the process. Another critical step centers upon access being secured by alternative suppliers to the existing networks. The Commission has a procedure in place which provides for the timely processing of applications. The Commission has been successful in certifying numerous alternative providers of local exchange service, interexchange (IXC) service, alternative operator service (AOS) and customer owned coin operated telephones (COCOTs). There currently exists a very active competitive market in the interexchange or toll business.
A major step toward enhancing competition may occur if BellSouth is certified as meeting the requirements of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 for entry into the interLATA interexchange business. On May 27, 1998 BellSouth filed a Notice of Intent to submit an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking in-region interLATA authority. The Commission expects to conclude its evaluation of BellSouths compliance with the Federal Telecommunications Act fourteen point checklist in late September 1998.
As of June 30, 1998 CLECs were providing service to 47,501 customers in Georgia. The total number of access lines provisioned by CLECs is 104,161. The Commission expects continuing improvement in these numbers during the latter part of 1998, and subsequent years, as more CLECs start up business. The number of customers served by CLECs will continue to accelerate with the additional development and perfection of electronic interfaces, and full implementation of number portability. The Georgia Public Service Commissions June 4, 1998 Order directed BellSouth to implement additional enhancements to its existing electronic interfaces. The majority of these enhancements will be completed by the end of 1998. The permanent solution for telephone number portability will be completely installed in the metropolitan Atlanta calling area by August 31, 1998. Additionally, final cost-based rates for BellSouth were adopted by the Commission in September 1997.
The Commission is continuing to working with the Tier 2 LECs to develop a costing model which can be used for setting cost based rates for interconnection and UAF subsidy. This model should be operational by February 1, 1999. This date coincides with the proposed revisions to the Universal Service Fund administered by the Federal Communications Commission.
Both of the laws address reasonable rates for rural and high cost areas. The Georgia Act provides for a Universal Access Fund which is administered by the Georgia Public Service Commission. Funding comes from an assessment on all intrastate revenues to the end user in Georgia. At the current time the money is being used to fund the phase down of intrastate access charges for Tier 2 companies to the interstate level as it existed on July 1, 1995. This is being done over a five-year period, the second of which the Commission will address in 1997 (O.C.G.A. §46 -5-166(f)). The Commission completed year three of the phase down July 1, 1998. The final year for the phase down is 2000. As we progress toward 2000 and beyond, the PSC will phase out this part of the fund and replace it with a permanent cost-based fund that will ensure reasonable rates for all Georgians (O.C.G.A. §46-5-167).
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lends itself to furthering this goal at the federal level. The Commission plans to use the state Universal Access Fund in conjunction with the federal Universal Service Fund to ensure that rural Georgians pay reasonable rates for their basic services. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 defines reasonable rates as comparable to urban rates for similar services. The Commission has adopted this definition in administering the state fund. The Commission must review the definition of basic local exchange services under O.C.G.A. §46-5-162(2). It is already technologically obsolete with a 9600 baud data/fax communications requirement. The Commission expects to continue to address this issue in late 1998.
The strategic directions contained in these laws are consistent with the States plan for economic development. The Commission has adopted as one of its strategic directions "to ensure that reliable telecommunications, natural gas, electric and transportation services are available and reasonably priced either through effectively competitive markets or through economic regulation."
Appendix CNatural Gas Industry in Georgia
The Natural Gas Industry in Georgia is in transition from a regulated monopoly to a competitive market. The Commission adopted policies relating to natural gas restructuring in May 1996. Consistent with the principles outlined in its policy statements, the Commission actively participated in the Legislative Study Committee on Natural Gas Deregulation. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill (SB) SB 215, "The Natural Gas Competition and Deregulation Act of 1997," a plan for restructuring the natural gas industry from a monopoly service to a competitive market. The PSCs Natural Gas Strategic Planning team has developed a plan to implement the provisions of SB 215 and the Commission has approved five rulemaking dockets to initiate provisions of the law.
Over 1,400,000 customers use natural gas supplied by two investor- owned natural gas utilities; their total revenues last year were approximately $1.5 billion. Themunicipal gas systems are not directly affected by this legislation. Natural gas is a critical input into a number of industrial processes and is essential for economic development. The Commission believes that the best way to have a healthy market is to ensure that real competition exists.
The Commissions decisions will have consequences that will carry forward for years to come. The primary goal of the Commission is to enhance the transition of the natural gas market in Georgia from a regulated monopoly to a competitive marketplace that benefits the consumer, improves economic efficiency, promotes fairness, and maintains safety and reliability.The overall objective is to ensure that the benefits of competition (lower prices, more choices and better service) accrue to a majority of end users. Commission regulation and utility compliance should both be minimal, yet consistent with this objective.
To be successful in this effort, the Commission must balance a broad range of interests. The Commission has received input from all affected parties by issuing notices of inquires, conducting workshops, issuing rulemaking and processing cases filed under the law. The Commission has completed the process of developing formal rules, filing requirements, procedural rules, regulatory policies and guidelines.
In passing the "Natural Gas Competition and Deregulation Act of 1997," the Legislature found "It is in the public interest to establish a new regulatory model for the natural gas industry in Georgia to reflect the transition to a reliance on market-based competition as the best mechanism of the selection and provision of natural gas services at the most efficient pricing." O.C.G.A. §46-4-151(a)(1). This law was the result of changes to the natural gas industry from FERCs efforts to deregulate the interstate natural gas pipelines and producers.
A gas company may file an application with the Commission to have its rates, charges and services regulated under an alternative form of regulation (O.C.G.A. §46-2-23.1). The Commission is authorized to either approve or deny a gas companys proposal. By statute, this alternative regulation must be performance-based. While this code section grants the gas companies the option to file at any time for this performance-based regulation, the Commission is planning to conduct a proceeding to determine the best form of performance regulation. This determination will be important because the delivery of natural gas (i.e., the distribution or "pipes" business) will always be regulated under this statute.
O.C.G.A. §46-4-153 gives the Commission the authority to issue Certificates of Authority to competing marketers. The rules and regulations regarding Certificates of Authority were adopted December 31, 1997. Random assignment of customers to certificated marketers will signal the complete transition to a competitive market and the local distribution company will be relieved of the duty to sell gas to the end user. The Commission will finalize processing applications for Certificates of Authority for competing sellers of natural gas by September 1, 1998, the beginning of the heating season.
O.C.G.A. §46-4-154 allows a gas company to file a notice of election, which is an application to establish just and reasonable rates, including separate rates for unbundled service, using straight fixed variable rate design. Unbundling is a major step in the process of moving to competition. Each element of the LDCs services is to be priced separately, allowing customers to purchase similar services from a competitor. AGL made such an election in November 1997 and the Commission issued its final order in this matter in June 1998..
When certain conditions are met under the new Georgia law, the local gas company will no longer be required to sell gas to retail customers. The Commission has established a methodology for assigning to the new marketers any firm retail customers who have not yet chosen a marketer. This provision is designed to allow the local distribution company out of the "market function." Even though AGLs territory will be open to competition from gas marketers in late 1998, the Commission does not expect to make such assignments until 1999 or 2000, at the earliest, as it will take time for the condition precedents to occur.
O.C.G.A. §46-4-158 et. seq. provides for certain duties of the electing distribution company. Once the Commission determines that market conditions indicate effective competition, the electing distribution company (EDC) will become a "pipes" business delivering the gas and performing certain other functions. The sale of the gas itself will be an unregulated business, with only competition to control the price. The price of the delivery service that the EDC sells will be regulated by the Commission. In addition the Commission is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the competitive market and resolving disputes between the marketers and the EDC and disputes between the marketers and customers. As with telecommunications, this will add significantly to the agencys caseload and consumer call volumes.
O.C.G.A. §46-4-161 provides for the establishment of a "Universal Service Fund" by the Commission. The fund has two purposes: (1) To cover part of the uncollectible losses of the marketers; and (2) To provide funds to expand the system of the EDC to areas not currently served by natural gas.
The strategic direction contained in this law is consistent with the Governors strategic priority of economic development and with the Commissions strategic direction "to ensure that reliable telecommunications, natural gas, electric and transportation services are available and reasonably priced either through effectively competitive markets or through economic regulation."
Appendix DElectric Industry in Georgia
Electricity is a vital energy form to the economy of the state and to the quality of life of our citizens. Of the three utility industries, the electric is the most universal and most essential. Virtually everyone in the state has electricity. Like the other two industries, the electric industry is in a state of change. The PSC expects that the electric industry in Georgia may be restructured in the future.
Unlike the other two industries, there is no new legal framework to determine the Commissions strategic direction in the electric industry. Therefore, the existing legal framework reflects the present state of monopoly regulation.
Although there is limited flexibility under these laws, the Commission has taken the initiative to examine restructuring in Georgia. The Commission completed a series of electric restructuring workshops and published a report that identified issues that must be resolved if competition is to come to the electric industry. The Commission has begun addressing issues in generic proceedings related to: (1) functional unbundling which would require restructured rates to more closely match cost to provide service; and, (2) stranded cost by determining the type and amount of asset which could possibly qualify for recovery. The Commission plans to investigate additional issues in the coming year.
Although there is no state or federal legislation mandating restructuring, the Commission reflects in its decisions this eventuality by its efforts to mitigate the potentially harmful effects associated with re-regulation, such as:
In the three-year accounting plan for Georgia Power Company, the Commission ordered the Company to apply all earnings above the approved level to accelerate depreciation of high-cost plant facilities. In 1997, this action resulted in approximately $135 million being applied to reduce costs being charged to ratepayers for the Vogtle nuclear plant.
In deciding Savannah Electric and Power Companys over-earnings case, the Commission approved the creation of a regulatory liability account which provides for the mitigation of potentially stranded costs and regulatory assets should the Commission determine that they exist and are properly recoverable by Savannah.
In the Georgia Power Companys and Savannah Electric and Power Companys 1998 Integrated Resource Plan and Certificate Approval proceedings, the Commission has ordered the Companies to address the effects of restructuring on the Companies plans to meet future demand and to maintain system reliability.
The Commission will also consider restructuring in its decision (scheduled for December 1998) in the Georgia Power Company 1998 Rate Case and alternate rate filing. In this rate case the revenue requirements for Georgia Power are expected to be significantly reduced. The modified earnings sharing plan that the Company is currently under will expire at the end of 1998, so the Commission will decide whether to extend, modify or terminate the plan.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §46-3A-1 et seq., the Integrated Resource Planning Act, the Commission reviews and approves Integrated Resource Plans filed by the investor-owned utilities on a three-year cycle and approves applications for certificates as indicated by need. During 1998 the Commission reviewed and approved resource plans for both IOUs and will make a decision on Savannahs application for a certificate for a power purchase contract. The Commission continues to monitor Georgia Power Companys Residential Load Management Program, a program designed to reduce peak load by controlling participants air-conditioning usage during peak periods.
While the Commission has rate regulation of only the investor-owned utilities, Georgia Power Company and Savannah Electric and Power Company (which serve approximately 1,650,000 homes and businesses and have combined retail revenues of approximately $3.3 billion), the Commission oversees territorial assignments for all suppliers pursuant to O.C.G.A. §46-3, the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act. The Commission reviews and approves requests for transfer of retail electric service, decides disputes over territories and customer choice, and maintains the electric supplier territorial maps for each county in the State. In a case brought by Sawnee EMC against Georgia Power that involved Georgia Powers provision of service to an apartment complex located in Sawnees territory, the Commission decided to allow Georgia Power to continue serving the complex as one customer thereby allowing the aggregation of individual loads into one large load that was eligible to choose its power supplier (this case is currently on appeal). This decision allows even greater retail competition than was envisioned before.
The Commission also approves the financing of rural cooperatives.
Major issues to be addressed in 1998 and 1999 by the PSC for the electric industry are market power, structural separation of the currently vertically integrated utilities, development of an independent system operation (ISO), maintaining reliability and stranded cost recovery.
The strategic directions contained in this plan are consistent with the States plan for economic development and with the Commissions strategic direction "to ensure that reliable telecommunications, natural gas, electric and transportation services are available and reasonably priced either through effectively competitive markets or through economic regulation."
Appendix EPipeline Safety in Georgia
The Pipeline Safety Office is responsible for enforcing safety regulations for natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. The PSCs authority over distribution and transmission systems within Georgia extends from the interstate transmission pipelines to the outlet of each customers meter.
The Georgia Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over two investor-owned natural gas distribution companiesAtlanta Gas Light Company with 42 separate inspection units and United Cities Gas Company with two separate inspection units. In addition, the Commission monitors the safety of 123 master meter operators, 83 municipal systems, 18 direct sales operations, and five LNG plants. These systems include more than 600 miles of transmission pipeline and over 60,000 miles of distribution mains and services serving approximately 2 million gas customers.
The Commissions involvement with pipeline safety began in 1970 following enactment by Congress of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, which established safety standards for gas systems. This law allowed state agencies to implement a Gas Safety Program with the cooperation of the federal government.
Achieving operator compliance with pipeline safety regulations is critical to preventing accidents and injuries to the general public. Accordingly, the Pipeline Safety Office places a great deal of emphasis on the review and monitoring of the natural gas operator's construction and maintenance work. In determining the risk potential and priority of inspections, the Pipeline Safety Office considers the following factors:
The ratio of total steel pipe to coated steel pipe;
The ratio of total steel pipe to cathodically protected steel pipe;
Leaks per mile of pipe;
Leaks per number of services;
Unaccounted for gas volumes and percentages;
The number of accidents or facility failures;
Footage of cast iron pipe in the system; and
Past history of the operator.
The Pipeline Safety Office performs the inspections described below and places a great deal of emphasis on the review and monitoring of the natural gas operators construction and maintenance work. The Pipeline Safety Office also conducts training of system operators to ensure compliance with safety regulations, thereby reducing the amount of unaccounted gas in the systems.
Conduct on-site examinations and reviews of the natural gas operators maintenance plan, programs, records, physical plant and work in progress.
Perform field verification and operational functions of the gas operators district regulator stations, emergency valves, cathodic protection, odorization and material used in the construction of mains and services lines.
Review operators corrective action to address violations of the Minimum Federal Safety Standards. This inspection is conducted sixty days after notification of a violation.
Monitor the design, testing and field construction activities for the installation of new service lines, mains and large transmission pipelines.
Provide training for operators through seminars and during inspections on cathodic protection, construction and maintenance of regulators, overpressure protection, odorization and emergency procedures for complying with the Federal Regulations.
Investigate incidents when an operator notifies the Pipeline Safety Office of an incident that has occurred on its gas system where death, personal injury requiring hospitalization or property damage of $5,000 or more is involved.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
Monitor the operators compliance with testing each of their employees for the presence of prohibited drugs and alcohol at the work place and maintaining an employee assistance program.
The Pipeline Safety Office has an experienced, highly trained and professionally educated staff consisting of a Supervisor, Program Assistant and five (5) Gas Pipeline Safety Inspectors. The effectiveness of the Pipeline Safety Office is centered around the professional and technical education and training of its staff. All have received training in engineering and are required to complete and pass eight (8) one-week courses provide by the Federal Transportation Safety Institute within three years of employment. These courses provide compliance information, inspection techniques and enforcement procedures necessary for the inspection of natural gas distribution systems or liquefied natural gas facilities. This training is available only through the federal government and each inspector is required to maintain eligibility status in accordance with federal requirements.
The Commission has adopted a strategic direction: "To Enhance Public Safety Through the Pipeline and Transportation Safety Programs." The PSCs strategic direction for pipeline safety is consistent with the States strategic priorities of public safety and economic development since businesses and individuals demand safe and reliable natural gas service.
Appendix FCommissions Customers and Stakeholders
In addition to demonstrating a commitment to utility customers through consumer protection initiatives, the Commission recognizes the need to serve its other external and internal customers and stakeholders. The Commission does not work in isolation. Because the Commission is a relatively small agency with limited resources, it must work cooperatively with a large and varied network of internal and external partners in the public and private sectors to communicate with its customers and stakeholders. Internal customers of the PSC include Commissioners and Staff and the PSCs primary external customers include:
Georgia citizens and businesses that receive services from utilities regulated by the Commission,
Regulated companies (e.g., gas pipeline operators, electric, gas, telephone, pay telephone, passenger bus, limousine, household moving and railroad companies, and users of automatic telephone dialing and announcing devices and telephone observing equipment); and,
Intervenors in cases before the Commission (e.g., law firms, citizens advocacy groups, and other organizations.)
Some of the PSCs stakeholders include:
a) Georgia Citizens.
b) Branches of Local and State Government:
i) Governor and Lt. Governor;
ii) Department of Administrative Services (DOAS);
iii) Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA);
iv) State Merit System;
v) Governors Office of Consumer Affairs and Consumers Utility Counsel Division (CUCD);
vi) Attorney Generals Office (AG);
vii) Department of Aviation Ground Transportation;
viii) Department of Medical Assistance (DMA);
ix) Secretary of States Office;
x) Office of the Commissioner of Insurance; and
xi) Utilities Protection Center (UPC).
c) Members of the General Assembly and their respective staff.
d) Congress and federal agencies:
i) Federal Communications Commission (FCC);
ii) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC);
iii) Federal Department of Transportation (DOT); and
iv) Department of Energy (DOE).
e) The Media.
f) Associations and Advocacy Groups:
i) National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC);
ii) Americans with Disabilities(ADA);
iii) National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB);
iv) Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA);
v) Campaign for a Prosperous Georgia (CPG);
vi) Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA)
vii) Cooperative Hazardous Materials Enforcement Development (COHMED);
viii) Edison Electric Institute (EEI);
ix) Gas Research Institute (GRI);
x) Georgia Center for Advanced Telecommunications Technology (GCATT);
xi) Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association (GTMA);
xii) Georgia Telephone Association (GTA);
xiii) Georgia Motor Trucking Association (GMTA);
xiv) Georgia Movers Association (GMA);
xv) Georgia Municipal Association (GMA);
xvi) Georgia Industrial Group (GIG);
xvii) Georgia Municipal Association (GMA);
xviii) Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG);
xix) Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia (MGAG);
xx) National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR);
xxi) Southeastern Legal Foundation;
xviii) Southern Electric Restructuring Group
Each of the regulated industries is undergoing change. To achieve success in implementing change today, the components of change must be translated into a language that each audience can understand and then communicated in a way that ensures apparent and appealing benefits. Each customer and stakeholder group (target audience) has unique needs, fears and emotional "hot buttons" regarding restructuring in the electric, natural gas, and telecommunications industries, increased marketplace competition, economic growth, trucking accidents, natural gas pipeline explosions, and consumer rights and responsibilities. Each groups needs must be identified and satisfied in order to achieve acceptance and understanding of the Commissions role in balancing Georgias economy, and ensuring consumer choice of adequate, reliable utility services at reasonable rates.
Appendix GConsumer Protection and Public Information and Education
The Georgia Public Service Commissions Consumer Affairs program was established in 1973 to analyze electric, gas, and telephone complaints and to ensure that regulated monopolies and other companies operated in conformity with Commission rules and regulations. In recent years, in light of budget and manpower constraints as well as the introduction of competition in previously regulated industries, the Commissions Consumer Affairs Office has streamlined its complaint-handling processes, increased its use of technology and intensified its consumer protection, public information and education efforts.
The PSC has a duty to inform and to educate the public about the onset of new regulatory environments and the roles, responsibilities, structure, functions and missions of the Commission therein. Staff must not only assist consumers when questions or problems arise, or when they have become victimized by unscrupulous marketers, but has an inherent responsibility to Georgias citizens to educate them on how to prevent these problems from ever occurring. This education is likely to take many years, as we are charged with changing the buying habits and patterns of several generations of citizens. The current Commission has also begun to view itself as a vehicle for information and as an educating organization. Therefore, a greater emphasis on educational activities is expected to be demonstrated in the years to come.
Within the Commission, the Consumer Affairs Office is charged with educating Georgias consumers how to make informed decisions and protect themselves in what has suddenly become an environment in which buyers must beware. This Office can closely monitor and build educational campaigns around trends in consumer inquiries. The Commission uses Consumer Affairs as one of its primary output mechanisms for getting information to consumers. Consumer Affairs duties include: (1) handling consumer complaints and reporting on those activities; and (2) educating consumers as to their utilities rights and responsibilities and providing them with the information necessary to operate and make vital decisions in traditional and developing competitive environments.
The PSCs most important future role will be to protect consumers by arming them with facts to make informed decisions about utility purchases and assisting them in mediating disputes with service providers. Competitive markets for goods and services generally depend on competition itself to ensure that prices are fair, that market access is nondiscriminatory, and that consumers are not misinformed about their choices. The introduction of competition into many of the traditionally monopolistic utility markets will place pressure on providers to keep prices low and service quality high, but also will require regulatory vigilance. While competition is still developing, it is necessary to ensure that entities are able to compete meaningfully and effectively. In addition, there may always be opportunities for business to take advantage of customers who are not well informed or who lack access to competitive services when service is poor or prices are high.
The Commission remains uniquely capable of providing these services to utility consumers. Because consumer conflicts will increase as markets grow, the Commission has begun to modernize and improve its handling of complaints and inquiries concerning traditional utility practices. The Commission must also be prepared to address new commercial relationships and issue relating to fair business practices that are likely to arise with the continued movement toward greater competition in various markets. It is critical for the Commission to confront these changes because of the introduction of local telephone and natural gas competition.
The Commission will continue to consolidate and intensify its efforts to serve the interests of individual consumers as well as undertake actions to address broad consumer interests. For example, during the past year, Consumer Affairs used its consumer contact data to: (1) undertake investigations and initiate enforcement proceedings against companies with an excessive number of "slamming" (unauthorized change in a customers carrier of choice) and "cramming" (unauthorized charges placed on customer bills) complaints; (2) red flag emerging issues such as increases in customers gas bills; and (3) monitor for the utilities division telecommunications staff complaints against companies with interim certificates. It is expected in the upcoming year that efforts such as these will be expanded as the deregulation of the natural gas market begins to unfold.
Commissioners and every PSC employee are involved in consumer protection at some level. The Commission is a resource for consumers when problems or conflicts with service providers occur. Most often, consumers call, write, or visit the Commission for one of six reasons:
to get information;
to complain about their utility service or bills;
to report unfair utility practices;
to seek help in resolving a dispute with their utility;
to voice dissatisfaction with Commission policies or practices; and/or
to participate in cases.
Of the 55,377 consumer calls and letters received in 1997, members of the Commissions Consumer Affairs Office provided assistance in 33,643 of them. The remaining contacts were transferred to Commissioners, staff or other state agencies. These 33,643 consumer contacts represent an overall 16% increase in contacts since 1996. For 1998, a 20% increase in contacts is projected as a result of legislation implementing the telemarketer "No Call List" and the deregulation of the natural gas industry. The 10-Year Workload Comparison chart that follows hereinafter shows that consumer contacts have increased fivefold during the last ten years with an annual growth rate of 20.45%.
* Through June 30, 1998
With more than 70% of the contacts classified as General Information, it is crucial that the Commission position itself to be able to provide consumers with information that will enable them to make informed choices regarding their respective utility purchases. By examining the types of contacts logged into the Commissions database system for the above-referenced period, it appears that the most common concern shared by consumers relates to the issue of billing. The Commission plans to consolidate and intensify its efforts to serve the interests of individual consumers as well as undertake actions to address this and other shared consumer interests.
Public Information and Education Initiatives
Public utility commissions exist to serve the public at large, a public that is composed of groups who often have contradictory goals. The objective of a public utility commission is not to maximize the interest of any customer but to prevent any customer from having its interest irreparably damaged. Because commissions exist to find a balance between these incompatible goals, it might be argued that the mission of commissions is not to maximize customer satisfaction but to minimize customer dissatisfaction. One way to accomplish this is to educate the public regarding the new regulatory environment. The PSC has expanded its public information and education efforts over the last several years.
While setting 1995 agency goals, education and marketing were established as two directions for the PSC to pursue in order to enhance communications with customers and stakeholders. Because some PSC staff were already engaged in a number of outreach and education activities, a Communications Team, which included representatives from all Commission program areas (e.g., transportation, electric, gas, telecommunications, natural gas pipeline safety, consumer affairs, public information, legislative liaison, Commissioners offices, personnel, and administration) was established to explore how we communicate who we are, what we do, and to whom it should be communicated.
1995 public awareness projects:
(1) Surveying staff to determine its thoughts on public information;
(2) Informally interviewing some of the stakeholders and customers;
(3) Developing a matrix to define primary audiences and proposed tools to reach each audience;
(4) Writing the PSC mission;
(5) Formulating a PSC logo and slogan; and
(6) Establishing objectives for public awareness project priorities in 1996.
1996 public awareness projects:
(1) Publishing and disseminating to a large number of internal and external customers and stakeholders a consumer friendly 1995 annual report, revised PSC general brochure, and Commissioners bios brochure;
(2) Developing a PSC home page to provide electronic access to the Commissions cases, orders, calendars, news releases, and other information;
(3) Arranging a video teleconference, which included many of the PSCs customers and stakeholders and used the Board of Regents GSAMS site with a link to the University of Georgia, to provide information on forthcoming competition in telecommunications markets and working with the Cable Television Association to disseminate the recorded program;
(4) Developing and disseminating several public service announcements to make consumers aware of blind spots for truckers and how they can help prevent accidents by staying out of these "No-Zone" areas when passing big rigs on the highways; and,
(5) Providing training to PSC staff who spoke to civic and other groups about the changing role of the Commission and the new choices consumers will face in the future.
1997 public awareness projects:
(1) Working cooperatively with the Utilities Protection Center to use funds from the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety to raise public awareness in schools and among contractors about calling before digging to prevent underground utility accidents and protect lives and property and to develop a statewide utility mapping system;
(2) Holding public hearings throughout the metro Atlanta areas to obtain citizen input on a new area code;
(3) Updating existing public information materials, and mailing and fax lists;
(4) Creating a consumer guide to natural gas deregulation;
(5) Development of Education and Training Assistance packet for dissemination to motor carriers that gives them an overview of safety regulations and requirements with which they must comply;
(6) Creating a brochure on "slamming";
(7) Publishing a consumer advisory on misleading telemarketing tactics;
(8) Holding a series of workshops on electric restructuring; and,
(9) Working with the media on news items of interest to consumers.
Appendix HPSCs 1998 Information Technology Plan
Georgia Public Service Commission
Information Technology Strategic Plan
July 1, 1998
The Georgia Public Service Commissions strategic direction for information technology (IT) is: "To use information technology to be accessible to the public and to improve the internal operations of the agency." The two primary means for implementing this strategy have been to develop a wide area network (WAN) and an on-premises web site. Our advanced IT platform that connects internal users has improved communications, enabled data sharing, reduced paper records, promoted redesign of work processes, permitted telecommuting, enhanced data analysis and refined project management. Our on-premises web site has promoted electronic transfer of documents, increased accessibility to the public, enhanced consumer and public education, and improved external communications.
Five strategic objectives relating to information technology have been adopted by the PSC:
Standardize hardware and software;
Enhance internal and external interconnections;
Develop and implement applications to improve efficiency and to ensure the reliability and integrity of information;
Instruct users; and
Develop in-house information technology support.
Each of these are long term, flexible objectives. The PSC must continue to react to changes in the IT industry to avoid obsolescence and to ensure that our systems and applications evolve as the sophistication and needs of users change.
Linkages Between Information Technology and Agency Business Plan
IT has been fully integrated into all aspects of the day-to-day work processescommunications, data management, data analysis, scheduling and case processing. Continuity of IT operations and timely completion of Y2K projects are critical to accomplishing the agencys mission. The mission of the PSC is to ensure that consumers receive the best possible value in telecommunications, electric and natural gas services and to improve transportation and pipeline safety. The five strategic directions in the agencys business plan relate to: 1) economic regulation of utilities; 2) transportation and pipeline safety; 3) efficient internal operations; 4) customer service; and, 5) information technology. Achieving the objectives in these areas is highly dependent upon IT resources and projects. See GANTT Chart in Appendix A for time line on major IT projects discussed below.
Utility regulation has changed dramatically as the telecommunications and natural gas industries have been opened to competition. The number of providers in these markets and the number of cases processed by the PSC have steadily increased. Over a thousand cases were filed in the past year at the PSC. Similar changes are expected if the electric industry becomes more competitive. Major IT projects directed at supporting key objectives for the economic regulation of telecommunications, electric and natural gas utilities are:
Filing and Case Tracking System (FACTS)A LAN-based database of all PSC dockets. A list of all documents filed in each docket, the case schedule and the staff assigned will be available once this system is fully operational. The first phase of this project, the document tracking module, has been in place for a year. The public can immediately access and download any document via the internet if an electronic copy has been filed with the PSC. A contract has been approved to make minor modifications to the first module and to begin programming the second module which will track case management information.
Telecommunications Certificated Providers DatabaseA LAN-based database of all companies certificated to provide telecommunications service in Georgia. This project is in the final stage of implementation and the information is already available on the PSC web page.
Natural Gas Marketers DatabaseA LAN-based database of all companies certificated to provide natural gas service in Georgia. This program is in the early stages of development. When completed the information on natural gas marketers will be available on the internet.
Several major IT projects support key objectives for transportation safety. Over the last few years the Transportation Division has been migrating from main-frame to LAN-based programs. Those that remain on the main-frame will be replaced with Y2K compliant programs within the next year. In addition, all of the Divisions programs need to be integrated using a standardized interface. Benefits of this integration will include eliminating duplicate records and data entry, more efficient processing and enhanced reporting capabilities. Currently, the programs do not allow for customized database searches to identify carriers with a particular profile. Without the ability to sort and extract useful data staff analysis is limited and questions from the public go unanswered.
Motor Carrier Certification System (MCCS)A main-frame program that maintains the unique numbering system to identify carriers included in all of the Divisions databases. This directory is the key to using both the electronic and paper filing systems. This program needs to be replaced with LAN-based, Y2K compliant program.
Certificated CarriersA main frame program used to track certificated "for hire" commercial motor carriers and the status of their insurance coverage. These carriers include household goods, bus and limousine carriers. This program needs to be replaced with a LAN-based, Y2K compliant program.
Interstate Exempt CarriersA main frame program used to track permits and insurance for interstate exempt "for hire" carriers, who transport exempt commodities, such as non-processed fruits and vegetables, sod and other low-value items. This program needs to be replaced with a LAN-based, Y2K compliant program.
Intrastate Exempt CarriersA main frame program used to track permits and insurance for intrastate exempt "for hire" carriers, such as non-emergency medical vehicles. These carriers transport people but do not fall under either the bus or limousine classification. This program needs to be replaced with a LAN-based, Y2K compliant program.
Single State Registration Program (SSRS)A LAN-based program used to track receipts and disbursements for interstate registered carriers who transport goods regulated under USDOT authority. This program needs to be integrated with the other transportation databases for more efficient processing and to eliminate redundant data entry.
Intrastate Property PermitsA LAN-based program to issue and track permitting and insurance of "for hire" carriers, that transport goods within Georgia. This program needs to be replaced with a multi-user system to correct processing limitations and to ensure Y2K compliance.
Chauffeur Permits (MCCP)A LAN-based program used to issue and track permits granted to individuals for authority to drive a limousine in Georgia. This program needs to be tested for Y2K compliance and replaced with a program that is integrated with the other databases.
Citation Program (CITE)A LAN-based program used to track citations issued to commercial vehicle drivers who violate state or federal law. This program needs to be tested for Y2K compliance and replaced with a program that is integrated with the federal SafetyNet database.
Charter Bus Permits (ChartBus)A LAN-based program used to issue and track permits and insurance. This program needs to be developed to comply with new federal legislation.
SafetyNetA LAN-based program developed and supported by USDOT to track safety inspections, violations and accident reports of commercial motor vehicles. A reporting program needs to be developed that sorts and extracts data from SafetyNet. The PSC must be able to identify high-risk carriers and high-crash corridors in order to achieve the strategic objective to focus limited enforcement resources where the greatest impact can be made.
Intelligent Transportation System/Commercial Vehicle Operations (ITS/CVO) The PSC along with other organizations who work with the motor carrier industry have formed a working group to identify improvement areas and technical approaches to implement ITS/CVO. Some of the benefits of this joint effort will be: 1.) Integrated capability to share intrastate and interstate data among agencies involved with the commercial vehicle industries; 2.) Improved communication among all agencies involved; 3.) One-Stop shopping for customers; and, 4.) Standardized methods for data submission and retrieval. This effort is still in the infancy stage; full implementation will take several years.
The PSC has adopted a strategic direction to demonstrate a commitment to customers and stakeholders. One means for achieving this strategy has been to become more accessible to the public through the use of the internet. Public information, consumer education materials and public documents are available on the PSC web page. Another major IT project directed at supporting the PSCs objectives for improving customer service is:
Consumer Response System (CRS)A LAN-based system to log and track consumer inquiries and complaints. Status of customer inquiries can be monitored through this system and patterns can be identified and addressed by the agency. This program needs to be replaced with a system that makes processing more efficient and interconnects with the Telemarketing "No Call" database being implemented this year to comply with HB71.
Enhancing Internal Operations
IT resources are used throughout the PSC to support the key objectives for enhancing internal operations. The network file server, web server and fax server provide staff with state-of-the-art software, data retrieval and communications capability. The PCs and applications software are upgraded as needed to accommodate the needs of the users. The two PSC officesin downtown Atlanta and Hapevilleare connected by an ISDN line. Wireless solutions are being studied to enable our field enforcement officers, who are located throughout Georgia, to send and receive e-mail and to use other network functions. The enforcement officers have already been equipped with pen-based computers that allow for electronic upload of data each day, thereby eliminating dual data entry and the delays associated with mailing in their reports. One major IT project for enhancing internal operations is:
Help Desk SoftwareThis system will allow users to report equipment problems, request assistance with applications, or make other IT inquiries as well as monitor the status of their requests. IT staff will use this system to control their workload and set priorities.
Information Technology Architecture Alignment with State Policies and Standards Critical Requirements
The PSCs IT strategic plan is aligned with the state policies and standards. See Table in Appendix B for mapping of Agency IT plan with State IT plan. The PSC s critical IT requirements are primarily associated with major IT projects indicated above. One exception is the need to equip the transportation safety enforcement officers with lap top computers. The pen-based computers currently in use do not have sufficient capacity to store the commercial vehicle data needed in the field, nor do they provide the other PC functions required for efficient operations.
Agency Support Strategy and Information Technology Staff Development
The agency will provide network management and user support through its internal IT staff. Programming support for new or enhanced applications will be provided by outside vendors. Training and development of IT staff include network certification training.
Appendix H(a)Time line for the PSCs Major IT Projects
|Filing and Case Tracking System (FACTS)|
|Telecommunications Certificated Providers|
|Natural Gas Marketers
|Motor Carrier Certificate System|
|Interstate/Intrastate Exempt Carriers|
|Intrastate Property Permits|
|Charter Bus Permits|
|Single State Registration Program|
|Consumer Response System|
|Help Desk Software|
Appendix BMapping of State IT Plan to Agency IT Plan
Data warehousing and sharing
|The PSC has developed network databases to enable internal sharing of data and has made information available to the public via its internet web page.|
State Awards for IT staff
|Once developed the PSC will participate in this program since maintaining qualified IT staff is an ongoing challenge.|
Year 2000 projects
|Identifying needs and securing funding for Y2K projects is underway.|
|Use and applicability of electronic signatures is being studied.|
|The PSC is using the internet extensively to be more accessible to the public, to share data, to disseminate public information and to educate consumers. Future uses include making forms and applications available on the internet and accepting filings electronically.|
|The PSC is a member of ITS/CVO task force that is evaluating the feasibility of a centralized jointly-owned database for all agencies that work with commercial vehicles. Other members are Department of Transportation, Department of Revenue, Department of Public Safety, and Georgia Motor Carriers Association|
800 MHz communication system
|The PSC is in compliance with the state policies. A statewide system would enhance communications for PSC safety enforcement officers and reduce or eliminate the need for multiple communications systems.|