In a split decision, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday opted not to clarify its position on what information filed by state telecommunications companies is shielded from the public.
The former director of the agency's public utility division had asked the commissioners for guidance on the issue in 2011, but staffers recommended dismissing the request, based on a March vote indicating commissioners would consider confidentiality on a case-by-case basis.
“We have decided that you decided,” analyst Larry Lago said.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to dismiss the request, with Commissioner Bob Anthony dissenting.
Anthony argued the Oklahoma Open Records Act, which gives commissioners some discretion, does not include anything about “proprietary” or “competitively sensitive” information in filings by telecom companies.
“There's very little that telephone companies do with this agency that involves trade secrets,” he said.
Anthony said he agreed with Andrew Tevington, the commission's former general counsel who had said a 2004 order restricting access to telecom companies' annual reports was too restrictive.
Anthony said there is no reason to keep information about public utilities like telephone companies away from the public, expressing concern that the commission is leaning toward secret subsidies and surcharges.
Anthony said Terral Telephone, a company with about 250 customers that received $2 million in federal funds in 2010, is in line to receive another $400,000 from the state.
He said he was worried customers may not have access to that sort of information under existing procedures.
Commissioner Patrice Douglas said every award from the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund, which helps rural carriers provide service, is a matter of public record.
Douglas said the decision to consider confidentiality issues on a case-by-case basis addresses any concerns about openness at the commission. She said the commission can reconsider that rule if there are questions about its clarity.
Anthony said he will vote against confidentiality requests from telecom companies that use the words “proprietary” or “competitively sensitive.”
“It's just another way to block information from the public,” he said.