In his State of the State address in the 1995 general session of the state legislature, Governor Leavitt encouraged change and innovation in the telecommunications industry. The governor’s vision was to develop and exploit the “information superhighway” to enhance education, healthcare, and commerce. In response to the governor’s challenge, Representative Marty Stephens sponsored H.B. 364, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which fundamentally changed regulation of telecommunications in Utah. The proposal was sweeping and required significant compromise from industry, regulators, consumer advocates, and policymakers. For the first time, Utah law allowed competitors to enter local urban markets to provide wireline services to Utah customers and mapped a course for U.S. West, the incumbent service provider, to compete. Immediately following passage of H. B. 364, competitors began applying to enter the Salt Lake City market. After a lengthy proceeding, the Commission issued the first competitive certificate to Electric Lightwave, Inc. in August 1996.
In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to begin opening local urban wireline markets throughout the entire country. The federal legislation was compatible with the state act which allowed the Commission to consistently implement and apply both laws. In the ensuing years, the Commission established the rules and the process for competitors to interconnect their networks to ensure seamless delivery of service to all customers.
In addition to the challenge of regulatory reform, the telecommunications industry was touched by political controversy during the Leavitt Adminstration. The relationship between U.S. West Communications and a member of House leadership reported by the media ultimately altered the outcome of the race for Speaker of the House. The incident illustrated the pervasive influence of utilities in the legislative process.