To ensure a regulatory balance between regulated companies and consumers in order to provide consumers with safe, adequate and reliable services at rates that are equitable and economical.
The Alabama Public Service Commission was designated as such in 1915 by the Alabama Legislature. The Commission evolved from the Railroad Commission of Alabama, which was created in 1881 to regulate railroads. The Commission has always been composed of three elected members: a president and two associate commissioners.
Between 1881 and 1915, the Legislature extended the Railroad Commission’s jurisdiction to include express companies, sleeping car companies, railroad depots and terminal stations. In addition, the Commission’s jurisdiction was broadened to include the regulation of telephone and telegraph companies, transportation companies operating as common carriers over water and operators of toll bridges, toll ferries, and toll roads. The Commission was also charged with the regulation of utilities providing electricity, gas, water, and steam, companies operating streets or inter-urban railways, as well as rail and communication companies already subject to regulation by the former Railroad Commission. The newly constituted agency thus became known as the Alabama Public Service Commission. The Commission’s authority was extended to approving the sale or lease of utility property or franchises and was broadened again in 1920 when the Legislature made the Commission responsible for regulating utility rates.
As Alabama’s highway system developed in the late 1920s, the operation of trucks and buses as common carriers increased. In 1927, the Legislature placed all motor transportation companies operating as common carriers of freight and/or passengers over regular routes on Alabama highways under the Commission’s regulatory authority. The Legislature broadened the Commission’s authority over transportation companies in 1931 and 1932 by including motor carriers not operating over regular routes. Intrastate air carriers were made subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction in 1945.
Natural gas transmission and distribution systems were placed under the Commission’s jurisdiction for safety purposes in 1968. Additionally the Minimum Safety Standards outlined in the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act were adopted.
In 1971, the Commission’s authority over motor carriers was broadened yet again as transportation enforcement officers were empowered to enforce the rules and regulations of the Commission. Similarly, the Commission’s safety jurisdiction was extended to include railroad tracks and equipment in 1976 under the State Participation Program of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970.
In 1977, the Legislature recognized the need to have an advocate charged exclusively with representing utility consumers before the Commission. The Legislature accordingly empowered the office of the Attorney General of Alabama to represent consumers and the state in proceedings before the Commission during the 1977 legislative session.
In recent years, sweeping federal and state statutory changes have significantly altered the Commission’s jurisdiction and authority over transportation and telecommunications utilities. Title IV in the Federal Aviation Administration Act of 1994 provides for federal preemption of the states in matters of motor carrier pricing, routes, and services for all but household goods carriers. As a result, Commission certification and tariff approval is no longer required for those motor carriers whose state Commissions are federally preempted from regulating beyond minimal initial requirements. The Commission continues to regulate carriers of passengers and household goods, ensures all motor carriers maintain appropriate cargo and liability insurance, and ensures that all regulated carriers comply with applicable safety standards.
With the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress opened up the local exchange telephone markets to competition. Large incumbent local exchange companies (ILECs) such as BellSouth and CenturyTel, who previously operated as the only local carrier within their Commission certified service areas, must now make their services available for resale and lease components of their embedded network to new entrants. New entrants into the local telephone market may also petition the Commission to open independent telephone company local service areas to competition. The introduction of local competition forced the Commission to set utility prices for retail telecommunication services using market based rather than cost based methodology. In 2005, the Alabama Legislature passed the Communications Reform Act. That Act, citing the competition that exists in the local telephone market, eliminated much of the Commission’s authority over retail telecommunication services. Additionally, Commission jurisdiction was eliminated for all broadband services used for Internet delivery. The Commission did, however, retain full jurisdiction over wholesale telecommunications services, most consumer telecommunications complaints and matters concerning Universal Service.