Most information from annual reports of telecom companies to state regulators used to be a matter of public record until the Oklahoma Corporation Commission closed much of the access almost a decade ago.
Now commissioners will hear arguments over whether those restrictions are too severe in a hearing Thursday morning in Oklahoma City.
The case began in 2011 when a former director of the commission's public utility division, David Dykeman, asked commissioners for guidance on implementing requests for information about telecom companies.
Andrew Tevington, the commissioner's former general counsel, said a commission order from 2004 regarding telecom annual reports was too broad. He said it kept confidential information that could be of use to the public under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
“The existing order is overbroad both as to the number of entities it covers and as to the type of information it covers,” Tevington said in testimony filed in August 2011. “It goes against the state's policy that records will be open unless a good, supportable, individualized reason exists otherwise.”
Annual reports for telecom companies include information such as the number of business, residential and broadband lines, as well as the number of minutes billed by the companies. It also includes information about how much financial support each company receives from state Universal Service Fund fees. Those fees are tacked onto the bills of most telephone customers.
“These legislatively created funds require openness to public scrutiny to assure the citizenry that the monies are spent appropriately by the correct parties,” Tevington said. “Information concerning telecommunications lines and the leadership of telephone companies may provide necessary information for the public to make sure these funds are spent appropriately.”
Some of the annual report information is confidential for competitive reasons, said attorneys for some telecom companies. They urged the commission to be consistent with Federal Communications Commission rules that allow companies to designate confidential information that could be released to commission staff but not the public.
Larry Lago, an analyst for the commission's public utility division, testified in July 2011 that his research showed nobody from the general public had made requests under the Open Records Act for information from telecom annual reports.
The commission's current general counsel has not weighed in on the case.
In testimony filed in the case in November, the commission's current director of its public utility division, Brandy Wreath, said annual reporting requirements for telecom companies changed in 2012. He said there was no longer any need to ask for guidance because the rules now allow for all nonpublic information in annual reports to remain confidential.
Wreath said there was adequate notice and opportunity for public comment on the changes to the information contained in annual reports when the commission approved the rule change last year. He asked for commissioners to dismiss the case.