SHIP AGENCY ADVANCES TARIFF AUTOMATION PLANS

SHIP AGENCY ADVANCES TARIFF AUTOMATION PLANS

The Federal Maritime Commission's ideas on the operation of its proposed automated tariff filing system are taking shape.

To make that happen, the agency has had to make decisions on two delicate and related issues: remote access to tariff information by the public, and how that and the system in general will affect private suppliers of electronic tariff services.The commission originally considered leaving the remote-retrieval by computer modem function solely to existing electronic tariff services, but following an inquiry into electronic filing issues it started last December, it changed its mind.

A report on that inquiry, reaffirming its basic approach to automated tariff filing and addressing the 19 comments received, was issued by the

commission last Friday.

The commission asserted that it could not leave the remote-retrieval function to third-party vendors. It cited legal constraints as the primary reason but added that all the shippers that responded to the inquiry asked that the commission retain that operation in its basic system.

Electronic tariff-filing firms questioned the necessity of remote access within the agency's system, and said it could add to the commission's costs.

Remote-retrieval will allow the public to dial into the system by modem and obtain a carrier's rate on a particular commodity in a given trade. The FMC insisted this feature will be relatively rudimentary, allowing access to one filed tariff at a time and performing no analysis or processing of the basic tariff data.

That approach, the commission continued, will enable it to provide public access to the tariffs as they are filed, in compliance with the shipping laws and the Freedom of Information Act.

At the same time, it will allow commercial electronic tariff services to provide value-added processing services for their clients.

The commission stressed that it will not provide value-added services to the public in competition with third-party vendors. It said the vendors' services in fact will be enhanced by the automation and communications features of its new system, which will encourage the development of additional products and services.

Access to the commission's database through computer tape should facilitate a continuing role for firms providing value-added services. Those services would include searching across different tariffs, or tracking all rates of a particular carrier in a trade, things the commission's system will not allow by public access.

The agency added that it will continue to need processing capability for internal, enforcement purposes and may continue to use value-added services to the extent the new system does not provide such advanced features. The

commission currently subscribes to Transax/RATES, a subsidiary of The Journal of Commerce.

Providing access to one tariff at a time, however, as the commission does now, can hardly be said to be a value-added feature, whether performed in the public reference room or over the phone, the FMC concluded.

The commission's automated system will include:

* A mainframe environment with a database system using Electronic Date Interchange Association standards.

* Phased implementation with temporary exemptions granted to companies experiencing difficulties in converting to the electronic system.

* Compatibility or connectability with existing equipment.

* Elaborate security features to protect sensitive information.

Some 750,000 tariff pages were filed at the commission during the last fiscal year.

Following the operation of a prototype electronic filing system later this year, the agency plans to have the new system fully operational in late 1989.