Ex-Phone Co. Executive to Become Consumer Advocate

Jan 4, 2013

The new director of the agency charged with watching out for utility consumers will be someone who has been on the other side.

Pat Quinn worked for Qwest Communications for more than 30 years, including eight as the company's Arizona president, before retiring in 2008. On Thursday, Gov. Jan Brewer chose him to head the Residential Utility Consumer Office. It is responsible for representing the interests of ratepayers when the privately owned electric, gas, phone and water companies ask the state Corporation Commission for higher rates. But Quinn told Arizona Public Radio he has since done consulting work -- including serving as an expert witness for RUCO in a case involving Century Link, the company that bought his former employer. Anyway, he said, it's not like it's the job of RUCO to fight every request for higher rates.

"Just because they come in and ask for a 9 percent return on their investment, that doesn't mean they shouldn't get something on their investment," Quinn said. "It doesn't mean it should be 9 percent, though. Part of my job will be, it may not be 9 percent, maybe they deserve 5 1/2 or 6. That makes them a viable utility so they can provide the services to the consumer at the prices that are right."

And Quinn said higher prices by themselves are not always a bad thing for consumers. He noted that Qwest got a rate hike of $4 to $6 a month in 1991. But the trade-off was Qwest got rid of the calling zones that sometimes made chatting with a friend across town a long distance call. Quinn's appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.