Oklahoma a leader in regulatory reform

by Denise Bode

Daily Oklahoman - January 26, 2004

Almost five years ago, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission began working with the state's telecommunications industry to streamline the regulatory process. The goal was to remove barriers that may prevent Oklahoma from tapping the gold mine created by technological leaps in telecommunications.

To say that this has been a success would be an understatement. A report issued last month by the Federal Communications Commission shows that high-speed Internet connections in Oklahoma have grown from a mere blip in 1999 to more than 235,000. That outpaces most other states with comparable population.

Can we draw any conclusions about policies that we have pursued to put us in the position? In 1999, the Corporation Commission eliminated rate-of-return regulation and replaced it with what is referred to as "alternative regulation," or the Anthony Plan. It is based on the rather bold idea that where competition exists, command and control policies were no longer needed and in fact discouraged competition.

With less money being spent on regulatory costs, Southwestern Bell Corp. agreed to invest that money in Oklahoma to expand and improve its information infrastructure in all communities of 10,000 lines and at four-year colleges.

The end result? The state saw the number of high-speed Internet subscribers grow from almost nothing to 30,000 in about one year. Since then, there's been steady growth to the 78,000 we saw last year. In addition, cable and satellite providers have been providing inexpensive, quality high-speed Internet services that have been growing in competition with SBC. So competition and light-handed oversight seems to work.

The real story isn't the numbers, but what this means for Oklahomans.

"Faster and better" has always been the mantra for economic development, and this is especially true when it comes to the powerful economic development tool of telecommunications. Suddenly a small rural community can have access to the same kind of expertise in health care, education, law enforcement and business that was once the exclusive purview of the big cities.

Oklahoma is part of a nationwide trend that is moving at unbelievable speed. Consider that it took almost 50 years for electric service to reach 30 percent of American households, almost 40 years for telephone service and almost 20 years for television. It's taken fewer than five years for high- speed Internet to reach a 20 percent market penetration in the United States.

As I begin my service on the advisory committee to the Federal Communications Commission, and as it reviews our state oversight of telecommunications at the Corporation Commission, I'm more mindful than ever of the need for fresh thinking in the area of regulation.

We must continue to lead surrounding states in the area of telecommunications technology by putting in place regulatory changes that will encourage even greater investment in better and faster technology, while still protecting access for all Oklahomans.

Bode chairs the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

© 2004 The Daily Oklahoman

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