Corporation Commission votes to dismiss AT&T bribery application

OKLAHOMA - It would have been the largest utility refund in history.

But, Wednesday morning, it was voted down by the Corporation Commission.

A group of prominent Oklahomans wants AT&T to refund about $16 billion to customers.

This all stems from a bribed vote in the late 80’s when commissioners let AT&T, then Southwestern Bell, reinvest excess revenues in their infrastructure rather than returning it to rate payers.

One of the commissioners and a Southwestern Bell attorney ended up going to prison for bribery over that vote.

On Wednesday, two of the three commissioners voted to dismiss the application.

Commissioner Todd Hiett made the motion to dismiss it.

“Even if we had jurisdiction, I don’t think we could act, because I don’t think we can alter a past legislative order of the commission. I think that would constitute retroactive rate making,” Hiett said.

Commissioner Bob Anthony was the only commissioner to vote no, trying to keep the possibility of a refund alive.

“I think we’ve neglected our constitutional duty to correct abuses,” Anthony said. “Clearly, it’s a constitutional abuse for a commissioner to be taking a bribe from the company in deciding their cases.”

Hiett even went so far as to say a $16 billion refund could hurt the public.

“If the company left the state of Oklahoma, that would be less competition in Oklahoma and not good for the rate payers,” Hiett said.

“I can’t believe such a thing. I just don’t believe in bribery ,and I don’t think the mass of Oklahoma people believe the same thing,” said Retired General Dick Burpee.

Burpee, one time commander of Tinker Air Force Base, is part of Oklahomans Against Bribery, the group that asked the Corporation Commisison to look at this.

“Something like $15 billion should go back in some form or matter to the rate payers,” Burpee said.

Despite Wednesday’s decision, the group said they will continue the fight and take the case next to the supreme court.

“We’re asking them to review whether the commission would have jurisdiction to take this matter up and whether it should be ordered to take the matter up,” said Russell Walker, the attorney representing Oklahomans Against Bribery.

An AT&T spokesperson sent us this statement:

“Over the past 25 years this case has been rejected at least six times by either the Supreme Court or the Corporation Commission, including a vote to dismiss by Commissioner Anthony himself in 2003. Today’s order should finally bring it to an end.

Despite the applicants' continued misstatement of the facts, Southwestern Bell never kept any excess revenues. As required by the Commission over 25 years ago, we invested all of it – about $31 million over three years – in our Oklahoma network, to the benefit of Oklahoma citizens. Since then, we have continued to invest in our network. In fact, we invested nearly $825 million in Oklahoma wireless and wired networks from 2013-2015.”