The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 18, 2013

Okla. Corp. Comm. to decide phone records privacy

By Tim Talley
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — State regulators will determine the confidentiality of telecommunications companies' records on a case-by-case basis in an effort to balance the interests of consumers and of the telecom firms, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission decided Thursday.

The three-member commission, which regulates utilities and the oil and gas industry, voted 2-1 to dismiss a proposal to make a general determination about what records would be kept confidential and out of the public's eye while still complying with the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

Commissioner Bob Anthony cast the no vote. He said that while the law authorizes the quasi-judicial commission to keep trade secrets and certain records confidential, he saw nothing in the law that authorizes commissioners to issue protective orders to keep a company's proprietary information secret.

Anthony said the commission has very little contact with the trade secrets of telecommunications companies.

The commission uses information in annual reports by telephone companies to review which companies are doing business in a particular exchange and to determine the public utility assessment fee for each company. Officials say they want to comply with the law while providing the protections needed to sustain a competitive telecommunications market in the state.

Commission officials have said telecom firms' annual reports include such things as the number of business lines served by a company and the type of technology that is used, the number of broadband lines and the number of minutes the company billed its customers and the revenues it received. It also includes information on the amount of Oklahoma Universal Service Fund subsidies the company receives.

Anthony said consumers need information about a telecommunications company in order to decide which company's services to use. He also complained that the commission is moving more and more toward making the records secret.

"I think that's not in the public interest," he said. "It's just another way to block information from the public. They need to make choices."

But Commissioner Dana Murphy said making public certain kinds of information provided by a telecommunications company could harm competition.

"These are difficult, complicated issues," Murphy said.

The commission is considering a proposal to abolish a fund created for rural telephone companies to help them cope with increasing competition in the telecommunications industry and allow the companies to obtain Oklahoma Universal Service Fund fees that subsidize services to public schools, libraries and certain health care entities

Wireless companies have asked to see confidential information from rural providers to determine if subsidies from the High Cost Fund are still needed. But the requests have been denied because the information is confidential under terms of a protective order from a 1996 case that established the fund.