Not many Marylanders are familiar with the name Frank O. Heintz. But most Marylanders are in his debt as he leaves the obscure but influential post of chairman of the state Public Service Commission. He has been one of the key traffic cops on the expanding information superhighway, and mostly he has been signaling "Go." Though others have played important roles in placing Maryland in the forefront of telecommunications innovation, as PSC chairman his contribution has been central.
Thus far Marylanders have been reading more about what is soon to happen to their home electronic services than they have seen results. Still, the old world in which telephones were used simply to communicate and cable facilities solely to entertain and inform is about to change drastically.
It will happen more quickly here than in most parts of the country in part because the PSC, under Mr. Heintz's leadership, has been one of the most progressive state agencies in tearing down the old regulatory barriers between rival technologies. Not everyone has been pleased with PSC decisions or Mr. Heintz's role in them, but the arguments have been honest differences over policy rather than the sort of acrimony that has marked some other government decisions with heavy impact on pocketbooks and bottom lines.
Less dramatic but no less important to the state's economy has been the agency's readiness to break up the old, heavily regulated monopolies in energy supply as well. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. is no longer the sole supplier of electricity and gas to major industries any more than Bell Atlantic continues to monopolize local telephone service. Competition is the order of the day, and it is inexorably supplanting strict regulation of utilities as the public's guarantor of innovation and fair pricing.
Mr. Heintz's departure after 13 years presents Gov. Parris Glendening with an opportunity and a challenge. With a second term on the five-member body expiring in June, the governor has the opportunity to influence the growth of competition and innovation in the state's utilities. Maryland has already done a lot to encourage competition in communications and energy supply. But there is a great deal still to do in making sure that the competition is fair and in the interests both of consumers and sound economic development. The stakes are enormous, both in terms of profits for the competitors and the public interest. Mr. Glendening needs to find another Frank Heintz, or run the risk of selling the public short.