MPSC Website Marks Completion of its 10th Year of Operations
In early 1996, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) website began operation, (michigan.gov/mpsc). This was among the first websites established in state government. It was a natural evolution from the Commissions award winning electronic bulletin board system (BBS). This BBS system called the Energy and Regulatory Matters Information System (ERMIS) that went online in 1986, offered subject matter postings, discussion groups and e-mail capability for MPSC staff, other Public Utility Commission, and regulated companies. ERMIS was the first system of its kind used by not only a Michigan state agency but one of the first in the country. It received financial support and was expanded during this time by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and was used by a number of NARUC committees. ERMIS began as a dial-up on-line service and evolved to an Internet based internet resource with links to other to energy related internet services such as FedWorld a federal government information service. Early internet access used telnet communication and text based menu systems such as Gopher to navigate to the requested information.
With the emergence of the World Wide Web the MPSC sought to expand its electronic capabilities to the forefront of this new emergent information technology. The Great Lakes Information Network provided a grant to the MPSC to purchase the computer and telecommunication equipment needed to operate a website in 1995. Thus the MPSC became one of the first state public utility commissions to establish a website in late 1995 which went operational in early 1996.
The website, like ERMIS, was originally used for the dissemination of commission orders, press releases, meeting schedules and agendas, hearing notices, studies and reports. Its role quickly expanded in early 1997 with the increasing popularity of email as the MPSC adopted automated e-mail distribution lists for distributing Commission press releases, meeting schedules, agendas and minutes. These e-mail distribution lists have now grown to serve nearly 8,000 subscribers and are used to distribute over half a million e-mails annually.
In1998, the Commission was the first state to allow consumers to file informal complaints about utility companies on the web site, these on-line complaints were automatically transferred into the Commissions complaint tracking system database to be process by the staff.
In 1999, the Commissions main page was redesigned, offering more links, an updated site news feature and improved navigation to consumers. This was in no small part due to the popularity of the website as the Commission was receiving well over two million website hits annually at that time.
To improve the efficiency of the MPSC case filing process used to submit documents, an electronic filings pilot program (E-File) was launched where parties in selected cases began filing case pleadings and other documents directly through the website. Since its inception five years ago the pilot has evolved to a full scale production system. Today nearly all cases filed with the commission are available for electronic filings, electronic signatures are used to validate documents and paper copies of filings are no longer required to be submitted.
In July 2002, the MPSC integrated its website with State of Michigans michigan.gov website as a unified structure to organize the various websites operated by the departments of state government. This created a consistent look and feel across state government and provided a more consistent and logical approach to the organization and presentation of the information.
Further expansion of Commission web site in 2002 included the addition of an on-line registration for Intrastate Telecommunications Service Providers. Over 350 companies were able to register with the Commission online. An Oil and Gas production reporting system was also instituted which allowed companies to simultaneously file monthly oil and gas production reports with both the Department of Environmental Quality for oil and the MPSC for gas.
In 2004, the MPSC launched publicly available wireless internet access (WiFi) in their hearing rooms as a way of enhancing the access to the electronic case filings dockets. WiFi has allowed case participants the ability to access and E-File documents, conduct research, email or schedule case hearing dates without leaving the hearing room. This would be followed by a complete overhaul and update to the E-File internet website in October 2006 and is now known as michigan.gov/mpsc-dockets .
Podcasts of Commission meetings was added to the web site in 2006 and have proved quite popular along with the email subscription lists, which have recently reached 7,700 user subscriptions.
Since 1986 the Michigan Public Service Commission has worked to be a leader in providing internet based information services, first via the ERMIS BBS system and later using the capabilities of the World Wide Web. As we look to the future, it is clear that the increased use of web based applications represents a clear trend and several projects are currently under development that will further expand the used of web based service for the public and companies regulated by the Commission.