Electricity suppliers were allowed to start promoting their product to customers as early as September 16 in a pilot programme being run by Puget Sound Energy, a Pacific Northwest utility. It was given the go-ahead in August by Washington state regulators to conduct a customer choice programme in order to learn what operational systems -- such as customer education, billing, transmission scheduling -- will be needed once there is complete deregulation. Power from other systems will ultimately be wheeled over the utility's distribution and transmission system. The utility will also provide such basics as meter reading, billing and line maintenance. The test programme, in an area that includes about one-tenth of Puget's 862,000 customers, might begin as early as November and continue through 1999.