PUC Tenders Telecom Rights

Telecom Bill of Rights

The California Public Utilities Commission is accepting public comments
for 30 days. The commission will vote on the proposed bill of rights on
Jan. 26 in San Francisco.

Consumer Hotline: (800) 649-7570

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL / The Press-Enterprise

The California Public Utilities Commission adopted a Telecommunication
Consumer Bill of Rights in May 2004, only to suspend the rules in
January at the urging of industry leaders. Now a new bill of rights,
announced Dec. 22, is on the table.

The new Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights would enact a
consumer education program, create a Telecommunications Fraud Unit and
expand the agency’s toll-free consumer complaint hotline another five
hours each weekday beyond the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday
hours that it currently operates.

"We must be able to identify fraud and abuse at the speed of today’s
market and step in quickly where necessary to protect consumers," said
commission president Michael Peevey in a statement.
But at least one state consumer group is already calling the new proposal, scheduled for a vote on Jan. 26, "weak."

The Consumer Federation of California says the new proposal is vague and difficult to enforce.
"By stripping the content from the bill of rights they have stripped protection from consumers," said Richard Holober, the group’s executive director. "We don’t share their delight in the magic of the unregulated free market system to do wonders for consumers."
The telecommunications industry has decried proposed bills of rights in
the past claiming that stiff competition among carriers already
prevents fraud because the focus is on customer satisfaction. Industry
leaders have also said that increased regulations pump up service rates
for consumers.

"Our primary concern is, always has been, and will continue to be, that
state rules place the consumer at risk of having fewer choices and
paying more for their wireless service," said Steve Largent, the
president of Washington, D.C.-based CTIA — The Wireless Association,
in a prepared statement.

The commission released the proposal three days before Christmas and
Hanukkah, leaving most industry leaders, including AT&T and the
Consumer Federation of California, unable to respond.
"Given the timing of the release of the decision, at this point in time
we’re not commenting," said Kathi Oram, AT&T’s spokeswoman.

Still, representatives of Verizon and recently merged AT&T and SBC
companies said that the commission’s efforts to prevent
telecommunications fraud and inform consumers should be commended.
"Verizon is pleased to see that the CPUC is making every effort to
ensure that Californians are focused on their legal rights as
consumers, and know how to exercise those rights," said spokesman
Jonathan Davies.

The estimated cost of hiring 30 additional full-time employees for the
proposed fraud unit that wouldn’t have policing authority and would
refer complaints and cases to local district attorneys or the attorney
general, hasn’t been calculated.
Between 2000 and 2004, the commission received 165,415 complaints from
wireless customers about billing, out of about 23 million customers.

The Federal Communications Industry collects consumer complaints and regulates the telecomm industry.

Online at: