Montana Utility Commission Considers ‘Lifeline’ Reform Ideas

Published June 13, 2018

The Montana Public Service Commission met with free-market groups, community members, and industry stakeholders to discuss how state utility regulators can help the Federal Communication Commission administer the Lifeline subsidy program for telephone and broadband internet access in the state.

Experts from The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, and Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Mercatus Center attended the April meeting to discuss how the state’s utility commission can help residents get affordable, reliable access to telecommunications.

Markets ‘Fundamentally Nondiscriminatory’

Montana Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman (R–Bozeman) says applying free-market principles would help increase broadband penetration in a fair and equitable manner.

“The profit-driven free market is fundamentally nondiscriminatory,” Koopman said. “Federal programs like Lifeline are profoundly discriminatory. The free market responds to real demand, where consumers are willing to spend their own dollars, not someone else’s, for cellular and broadband services. Federal programs throw money at people in the absence of real demand, misallocating scarce resources and creating enormous waste.”

Calls for State Reforms

Koopman says more state commissions should embrace the power of the market.

“If other state commissions are serious about wanting to expand access and affordability, they need to embrace market-based, incentive-based utility regulation while leaving non-monopoly, nonpublic utilities completely alone,” Koopman said. “The change must occur on the ‘idea level’ first, before state commissions will be willing to stand up and speak out against the wasteful and disastrous anti-market, anti-consumer policies of the federal government.”

Government vs. Tech Progress

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says governments are getting in the way of innovation.

“The best things that state and local governments can do to improve internet and broadband access is to not interfere,” Crews said. “People are still looking to Washington and governments to drive the most important new technologies that are coming our way.

“Governments are too much in the driver’s seat, and these technologies and the market principles that should govern them cannot reach their full potential,” Crews said.