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PSC BACKS PLAN TO GIVE PHONE FIRMS MORE LATITUDE

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The Utah Public Service Commission is supporting proposed amendments to Utah law that would allow more latitude in dealing with rapid changes in the telecommunications field.

US WEST Communications has submitted proposed changes to a 1985 law that was intended to give the PSC power to exclude some telecommunications services from traditional regulatory processes.That law proved ineffective when the Utah Supreme Court ruled 11 criteria contained in the law had to be specifically applied to any PSC consideration.

"That decision basically made the law unusable," said Ted Stewart, PSC chairman. "This bill would give the PSC more discretion to determine what items are justified."

Basically the proposed changes would allow the PSC to move specific competitive telephone services out of the traditional regulatory process, allowing the competing companies to base prices on normal market incentives.

Before the service is moved out of regulation, however, the PSC would hold hearings to determine if the move is in the public interest. And, the PSC would retain power to move the service back under the regulatory umbrella if expectations are not met.

US WEST spokesman Ken Hill said the company hopes the proposed changes will allow the company more flexibility in meeting public demand and adding new services as technology permits. He noted that only services considered non-essential to basic telephone service would be affected.

Consumer groups have expressed reservations. They want assurances that sufficient safeguards will remain to protect consumers.

A failed bill introduced into the 1988 Legislature that would have given US WEST free rein in setting some service rates still lingers in the minds of consumer advocates. They want to be sure the new proposals are not a rehashing of that bill.

Stewart said the PSC would retain the power to determine what services are justified and that US WEST would remain inside the regulatory loop.

"This appears to be a bill we can live with and gives the commission more discretion in determining which services should or should not be subject to regulation," Stewart said.

Services such as custom calling features, especially those offered by competing companies, are most likely to be affected by the amendments if adopted.

The proposals are currently undergoing legislative review by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.