PREPROPOSAL STATEMENT OF INQUIRY
UTILITIES AND TRANSPORTATION
[Filed April 9, 1997, 11:00 a.m.]
Subject of Possible Rule Making: Clarifying the mechanisms for ensuring that telephone subscribers have minimum reasonable local calling areas and opportunities to make interexchange calls at flat rates or rates less than state-wide tariffed per minute toll rates. Docket No. UT-970545.
Statutes Authorizing the Agency to Adopt Rules on this Subject: RCW 80.36.100, 80.36.160, 80.36.170, and 80.36.180.
Reasons Why Rules on this Subject may be Needed and What They Might Accomplish: Existing rules addressing subscribers' ability to make interexchange calls at flat rates provided a state-wide standard that focussed on local calling capability for each exchange. The process for achieving the standard was to create "extended area service" routes. Implementation of the rule greatly reduced disparities in the scope and price of local service across the state.
New rules may be needed because the existing rule does not address all interest in interexchange calling at flat rates and there were difficulties in applying the rule in certain situations that were clearly within the intent of the rule.
New rules or policy directives could offer more flexible opportunities for flat-rated interexchange calling when the existing local calling area boundaries do not divide a community; and new rules might make it easier to expand local calling areas directly when such expansion is merited by the configuration of the local community vis a vis its telephone exchange boundary.
New rules or policy directives must in effect answer these two fundamental policy questions:
1. When should subscribers in a telephone exchange have the opportunity to call locations in other exchanges (i.e., to make interexchange calls) without paying otherwise applicable state-wide per-minute toll rates?
2. What should go into the calculation of the rates for such interexchange calls?
A sampling of specific questions that relate to these issues are:
1. Should there be a state-side standard for minimum local calling capability that is required to be available for every exchange? If so, how should the standard be defined?
2. If there were a state-wide standard, should it be achieved by incorporating exchanges into larger local calling areas? Should such expansion be paid for by subscribers in the area where the expansion occurs, or should the relevant telephone company rebalance all local rates?
3. How should we encourage or require other opportunities for flat-rated or other lower-priced interexchange calling?
4. The commission has in selected instances allowed telephone companies to incorporate additional exchanges into an expanded local calling area in order to offer some subscribers "optional local calling plans" at rates lower than toll. Is the incorporation of additional exchanges into an expanded local calling area the best way to get companies to offer flat-rated and lower-priced interexchange calling? What costs should be reflected in the price of such local interexchange calling plans? What if any requirements would be needed to ensure a level playing field for all competitors?
5. Would it be better to pursue optional calling plans that do not depend on the commission's approval of an expanded local calling area? Would the price of such optional toll calling plans have to reflect access costs?
6. Is it a good idea for a company to charge some customers toll rates based on access charges, and others local rates for the same calls?
7. Should flat-rated and other lower-priced interexchange calling plans if offered in any exchange be available on consistent terms in all exchanges served by the offering telephone company? Should they be available only to subscribers in selected exchanges? If the latter, what should be the basis for selecting the exchanges?
Other Federal and State Agencies that Regulate this Subject and the Process Coordinating the Rule with These Agencies: A working group will develop initial proposals on the subject and coordinate with the FCC and joint board in these proceedings: Access Charge Reform (WUTC staff investigation and FCC notice of proposed rule making in Docket No. UT-960380, FCC Doc. No. 96-262); numerous interconnection proceedings before the WUTC (deriving from FCC Docket No. 96-123 and CC 96-61 Policy and Rules Re: Interstate and Interexchange Marketplace); and Universal Service (FCC Doc. No. 96-45 and WUTC Staff Investigation Docket No. UT-960301).
Process for Developing New Rule: Agency study; and the commission will call for initial written comments, and will provide the opportunity for additional written comments. The commission will schedule one or more workshops with representatives of affected constituencies in a manner designed to develop consensus regarding any rule proposal. See response below.
Interested parties can participate in the decision to adopt the new rule and formulation of the proposed rule before publication. The commission will issue a general call for comments. From commenters and from other interests that the commission knows to be affected by such a proposal, the commission will invite participation in a work group representing consumers, companies, policy makers and others to study the issue and recommend whether and how to change the existing rule and policy. Any proposed changes will be circulated in draft form for written and oral comment from members of the public. Final evaluation of and recommendations regarding any proposed rule and policy will be developed in light of public comment.
Interested persons may contact the Secretary, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA 98504-7250, (360) 753-6451, FAX (360) 586-1150. Such persons may submit comments, as specified below, or may ask to be included on the commission's list of interested persons for the proceeding.
Written Comments: Written comments in response to the CR-101 from persons interested in the subject matter of this proposed rule making may be filed with the Commission Secretary, referencing Docket No. UT-970545, not later than May 2, 1997. All commenters are asked, but not required, to address the questions listed in this CR-101, and to file an original and ten copies of their written comments. The commission also requests, but does not require, that comments be provided on a 3 1/2 inch IBM formatted high-density disk, in WordPerfect version 5.1, 6.0 or 6.1, labeled with the docket number of this proceeding and the commenter's name and type of software used. The commission will offer additional opportunities to provide written comments on any specific proposals or alternative proposals. Interested persons may file additional written comments in response to any such invitation.
Workshops: The commission will schedule workshops at which representatives of affected interests discuss and propose alternative means of addressing the underlying issues, which are expected to involve potential changes to commission rules. The commission will select participants in the workshops from those who comment and from representatives of interests known to the commission to be affected by the commission's actions.
Oral Comments: The commission will schedule an opportunity for oral comments as an element of adopting a potential rule change. The commission will provide written notice of the nature, time, and place of any opportunity for general public comment to all persons who provide written comments and to any other person specifically asking to receive such notices in this proceeding.
April 9, 1997
for Steve McLellan