Last week, Montana’s Public Service Commission (PSC) commissioners stirred up a bit of a fuss with the state’s telecom system owners – much less the rest of us, the customers who depend on their often-subsidized services.
What services, you ask? Services that Montana businesses and families use to run businesses, talk to relatives and friends and occasionally fib to the spouse about when we’ll be off the river.
The services I’m speaking of ? Telecom – telephone and internet service.
What’s the fuss about?
The fuss came about as the 26 partially subsidized telecommunications companies (who were not in the room during this discussion) and some of their clients eventually found out that there was a movement among the commissioners to reject rural telecom funding. This would be the same funding that recently required them to complete Federal and state certification activities, so that (among other things) they could qualify to receive these funds.
One of the commissioners was quoted discussing it in the context of Federal laws that redistribute wealth. He noted that these telecom businesses should go it alone without ratepayer largess – suggesting that others take no funding, like AT&T and Verizon. Unfortunately, that isn’t accurate. Here’s a $100 million example from AT&T’s public policy site. Print readers, see http://www.attpublicpolicy.com/universal-service/att-to-deploy-broadband-under-fccs-connect-america-fund-program/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Service_Fund
The gist of the discussion was that these 26 businesses should find a way to profit without Federal telecom subsidies or they should die – like the rest of Montana’s business owners are expected to do. More on that in a moment.
Today’s lesson for the regulated: Be in the room to protect your business, no matter how boring it is.
When it comes to politics, boring is good
People hate boring these days. Bored people in boring commission meetings eventually give up on the meetings because they’re boring. These bored people apparently feel they have something better to do, like return to their office (ie: the local coffee shop) so they can read email and check their Facebook (or at least doing something constructive like fly fishing) rather than watching these five guys yammer on about electricity or sewage or whatever.
Until it isn’t boring anymore.
You see… Boring is good when it comes to groups of legislators in an otherwise empty room.
The rest of us profit or die
While the rest of us are expected to profit or die without help, we still get help here and there. Montanans benefit (or benefited) from all sorts of “takings” legislation including the Federal Highway bill, the Farm Bill, rural electrification, controlling the Columbia system as well as the Mississippi and Missouri (ie: hydro power) and a litany of other projects. While almost none of us enjoy paying taxes, we’ve become a bit hypocritical about it. We’re quick to label these things as wealth redistribution, while in the next moment, we vote to send a bill along its winding road to becoming law again because we have to polish someone else’s crown long enough for them to remember to polish ours when our turn comes.
And then we fight for the military installation, the Interstate and so on, not admitting to ourselves that in some form those are takings too – particularly for Montana. When you drive that silky smooth interstate from Billings to Wyola, it feels a little smoother when you realize that some poor schlep in New Jersey helped pay for it.
So the process is that you complain about these bills long enough to make it look like you’re one of the good guys, and then vote for the bill anyway. Some call it hypocritical. Others say it’s how the system works.
Getting taken seriously is tough
Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s tough to be taken seriously when you vote against something for strong reasons and then vote for it. To the people back home who sent you to that big chair – this isn’t a game. When you speak as if you hold these values dearly and then you sit in the big chair and act inconsistent with the words that recently came out of your mouth, it creates problems. If you believe what you say, why is it so hard to stick to your vote and accept whatever results from it?
Is that a reasonable expectation?
PS: You can see the names of the 26 telecom companies on the left side of this page.
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