In the busy last week of the regular legislative session, Greg Sayre was quietly nominated by the Governor and on June 21, 2012 confirmed by the State Senate to be a Commissioner of the New York State Public Service Commission. Putting aside the continued lack of public involvement in the streamlined selection process for New York PSC Commissioners, (who have important policy-making and quasi-legislative responsibilities affecting vital public services), this appears to be an excellent appointment.
Commissioner Sayre brings state and federal telecom regulation expertise to the Commission, from his more than two decades of legal work for Frontier Communications (nee Citizens, nee Global Crossing nee Rochester Telephone). This is much needed at a time when broadband deployment, universal service, consumer protection, competition, and regulatory policies are in flux, in order to assure all New Yorkers have affordable and reliable broadband and telephone service on reasonable terms and conditions, with customer protection.
Sayre has a background of public service. In addition to his more recent work in the private telecom utility sector, he began his utility law career litigating electric utility rate cases as a member of trial staff of the well-regarded Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. With solid undergraduate educational experience in the Midwest, a law degree from a Massachusetts law school, prior utility law work in Pennsylvania, knowledge of the turbulent telecom area, including work at the FCC in Washington, and familiarity with western and rural areas of New York State, Sayre brings welcome geographical and subject matter experience to the five-member Commission, which now has two other members from Long Island and two from the Albany area. For many years he has also been active in work of the New York State Bar Association’ Public Utility Law Committee.
In a 2001 academic thesis, Regulatory Distortions of Local Exchange Telecommunications Infrastructure, Sayre indicated a personal preference for less economic regulation and more reliance on competition, antitrust law enforcement, and price cap regulation. However, he also recognized and emphasized the need for regulatory attention in order to achieve policy goals in areas of likely market failure:
Regulators therefore must define a new role for themselves, one less concerned with the details of utility pricing and operations and more focused on social policies that a competitive market cannot be expected to achieve. For example, regulation, likely in the form of some kind of subsidization mechanism, is probably required in the long run to assure the affordability of telephone service in remote and sparsely-populated areas.
Time and experience may have tempered Y2K Reagan/Thatcher era hopes about competition replacing economic regulation of utility services, after the Enron debacle and dysfunctional wholesale markets in the energy area, and the evolution of the telecom industry into functional oligopolies lacking important characteristics of a fully competitive market.
In his new role as a Commissioner, Sayre will have the opportunity to develop sound state and Commission policies to accomplish what “a competitive market cannot be expected to achieve,” for example, universal service, consumer protection and affordability goals. In addition, he will have the bedrock duty under the Public Service Law to assure that all utility rates, charges, terms and conditions of service, no matter how they are established, are just and reasonable.