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GISB Nearing Single Internet Solution to Give FERC

GISB Nearing Single Internet Solution to Give FERC

The gas industry's long and winding road from pipeline electronic bulletin boards (EBBs) to the Internet is heading back to the Gas Industry Standards Board Executive Committee for further debate. However, progress has been made as GISB has so far narrowed the number of proposals for Internet transition from seven down to two.

The GISB Executive Committee is strongly in favor of one of the models, known as Model 2 or CAMEL, the Consortium Advancing Mutual Electronic Links. The Executive Committee (EC) previously voted out Model 2 and Model 1 to be sent to the board. Model 2 received 19 votes from EC members, while Model 1 received only two votes. The GISB board of directors decided rather than choose one or send both proposals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) it would send them back to the EC in the hope one or a combination of the two could be decided upon.

"They're putting the responsibility for developing the standards for interactive Web sites back to the executive committee," said GISB Executive Director Rae McQuade. "We don't have a set timeline yet. We certainly have a timeline established by [FERC] Order 587-G [of June 1, 1999]." [The EC] can do what they want. They could look at the standards individually. They could follow a road map that supported one or the other model." McQuade said she was pleased with the board's decision to return the proposals to the EC. "It's better than what I expected."

FERC Order No. 587-G, issued in May, elicited howls of protest from every corner of the gas industry forest, mainly for its mandate that pipelines abandon their electronic bulletin boards by June 1, 1999. The order said pipelines may - but will not be required to - provide interactive sites on the World Wide Web. FERC said pipelines would be allowed cost-of-service recovery in subsequent Section 4 rate cases for the costs of the interactive sites only if they, along with GISB, create standards governing access to, presentation and format of the sites. Total implementation of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for pipeline transactions, as specified by the FERC, is opposed because of EDI's perceived implementation and usage cost, particularly to small and mid-size companies.

In presenting Model 2 to the GISB board last week, Internet transition planning task force member Mike Novak 2 explained the principle difference between FERC-specified ANSI X12 EDI and pipeline EBBs as the fact that EBBs are interactive and EDI is not. "Interactivity is important because we as human beings are interactive by nature." He said Model 2 features standard navigation and consistent screen layout for Web sites and supports X12 EDI "when and where it makes sense," namely for larger companies handling numerous transactions.

Model 1, explained Internet task force member Jim Buccigross, neither requires nor prohibits transactional Internet Web sites and gives greater support to use of X12 EDI. He said "there are multiple services available, including low-cost ones," for EDI implementation.

During the meeting it was noted by board members that not a single advocate inside GISB, including independent software/services providers, has said pipeline EBBs should be shut down. GISB EC Chairman Mike Bray noted he's never seen such unanimous opposition to a FERC order as 587-G has garnered. "In my opinion, the day of decision has arrived. Which road does this industry want to follow," he said.

Greg Lander, president of service provider TransCapacity, was visibly pleased by the board's decision. Another option could have had GISB retaining both models and asking FERC to decide the contentious issues of pricing, requirements and whether EBBs should be eliminated. Lander said he was thankful the board didn't get involved in picking particular approaches from the two models but stuck with its policy and sent the matter back to the EC.

"We feel that the issues of cost and requirement and the future of presentation systems is a FERC issue and not a GISB issue, so what typically happens at GISB is we resolve and work through those things which we all agree on first, and then we have the contentious ones parked waiting for further word from the FERC," Lander said. This is what has happened in the past with issues related to matters such as title transfers, operational balancing agreements, and intraday nominations.

"In essence, that's what's happened here. We will work on what we agree on. Both sides agree that pipelines should not be compelled to create Web sites. Both sides agreed that EDI was part of whatever plan we went forward with. And both sides laid out a lot of the similarities.

"At this point, given the timing of GISB's efforts, it's hopeful that FERC will drop the other shoe in the next couple to several months and that will fit nicely into both of our timelines."

Joe Fisher, Houston

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