Arizona's all-Republican Corporation Commission, which purports to back free markets and deregulation of utilities, unfortunately is having a hard time letting go of the regulatory reins. We pointed that out in an editorial on July 6, noting that Arizona Public Service's recent rate-increase announcement came just months after the commission suspended important deregulation steps that were to have kicked in on Jan. 1 of this year.
The commissioners took offense, and attempt to justify their foot-dragging — er, “caution” — elsewhere on these pages. In the process, they betray a bit of official arrogance that does more to explain their reticence than does their official self-congratulatory spin. Especially telling is the commission's reference to Qwest Communications' long-sought — and too-long-denied — approval to enter the state's long-distance market as a “privilege.”
We beg to differ. Participation in the American marketplace is not a privilege; it's a right. Indeed, economic freedom is a fundamental right, and the fact that it is not viewed as such among those who champion an ever larger regulatory role by government doesn't make it any less so.
Individuals and companies have a right to compete for customers. That's capitalism. That's the American way. And our Corporation Commission ought to embrace it.
We agree wholeheartedly that Qwest — and every other company — must be
held to the rule of law. If fraud is suspected, then prosecutors are duty-bound to apply the law aggressively.
But the Corporation Commission is acting as prosecutor, judge and executioner with respect to Qwest. As a direct result, Arizonans are the only consumers in Qwest's multi-state service area that are being denied another choice in long-distance service. Long-distance rates in those other states have gone down as a result of more robust competition.
The commissioners say they must be persuaded that prospective competition is “fair.” Would they also have government regulators extend their fairness test throughout the marketplace — where big and small, rich and poor businesses compete in a do-or-die battle daily? That's absurd. Let's not forget that “fairness” is the banner of good intentions that flies over socialism.
Certainly there is a legitimate role for regulators when one company monopolizes a big chunk of the market. But Arizona and the nation are supposedly in a deregulatory mode with respect to utilities that provide electricity and telecommunications services. Regulators should be stepping back to facilitate more competition. Consumers then are free to choose.
Or doesn't the Arizona Corporation Commission trust consumers?