Frazzled and Dazzled
I spent most of July 4th waiting for the lights to come on. Our power failed during a spectacular storm the previous Friday night, and the days after (until early Thursday morning, when power was restored) were split between filling gas cans for the generator and wondering just how hot the house would get during a record-breaking heat wave.
Many of my neighbors engaged in some light debate as to whether the power company could have avoided the scope of outages with better infrastructure planning, but largely accepted a storm system packing 75+ mph wind gusts would be a tall order for any utility. Most people, however, agreed that the utility fell down on its ability to communicate information effectively to its customers in the days following the storm, often offering inherently conflicted information via the website and call centers. It’s one thing to wait out a blackout; it’s another to watch a mobile app tell you that power to your area has been restored while you hold your smartphone in the dark.
Clear communications is a good thing. Late July 2, the FCC released an order suspending and setting for investigation numerous tariffs filed by various telephone companies and industry consultants. The tariffs address fundamental elements of the FCC’s new rules addressing universal service and intercarrier compensation. The FCC described both the new rules and the spreadsheets necessary to support them as “complicated.” They must be, since the FCC rejected 45 of the 53 attempts the industry made to comply.
More remarkable than the abominable 15% pass rate is that the FCC rejected filings of carriers up and down the line, from Verizon to the Baby Bells to CenturyLink to Windstream to the small rural carriers. In all, the FCC found that 84.9% of the industry’s attempts to interpret and implement the new rules raised “substantial questions,” and suspended them for further investigation.
Throughout the USF process, industry segments have staked out positions across the field of debate. But, once the rules are written and effective (and notwithstanding any judicial appeals), the industry sets policy debate aside to focus on the task of implementing the new regime. There’s a problem, however, when it seems that no one – from the largest carriers in the country all the way down the line – can discern what the regulator wanted and get the implementation right.
My house lights came five days after the storm, notwithstanding the electric company’s befuddled communications during the preceding days. But, when a regulator creates standards that no one can define, one wonders whether another part of the grid might go dark. And it might be good to get the grid back in working order before thinking about how to change the standards yet again.