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CU Urges CA Regulators and Governor Schwarzenegger Not to Gut Cell Phone Proposal

Thursday, April 29, 2004
Janee Briesemeister – 512-477-4431, x 117
Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747

Wireless Industry is Working to Delay or Kill Proposal To Improve Service

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) – More than four years after it was first proposed, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was expected to vote in May on a groundbreaking proposal to provide cell phone users with new rights. But news reports today say a vote could be delayed as members of the Commission work on an alternative proposal that is reported to be more to the liking of the Governor and the wireless phone industry.
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is urging the PUC and Governor Schwarzenegger to side with consumers, rather than the wireless industry and pass a strong Consumer Telecommunications Bill of Rights.
“We are extremely disappointed that Commissioner Brown has done an about-face, particularly after the utter failure of the wireless industry to support their trumped up cost impacts of the proposal,” said Janee Briesemeister, Senior Policy Analyst for Consumers Union. “It is even more disappointing that the Governor has intervened on behalf of the wireless carriers in opposition to a measure that’s strongly supported by the state’s consumers and small businesses.”
Over four years ago, Commissioner Carl Wood of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unveiled a Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights proposal to help cell phone users avoid rip-offs and get better service. Wood’s proposal was made after the PUC received a record number of complaints from cell phone customers who’d been burned by misleading sales pitches, billing overcharges, lousy network coverage, and poor customer service. The proposal was groundbreaking because it extended consumer safeguards to the wireless industry for the first time and had the potential to set the standard for similar rules throughout the country.
“One thing is for sure – cell phone service has not gotten any better since Commissioner Wood first offered his proposal,” said Briesemeister. “Every day that these new rules are delayed costs Californians more money due to billing errors, dropped calls, confusion and frustration.”
The wireless industry launched a well-funded lobbying campaign to prevent California from enacting the much-debated reforms. The industry has reportedly spent over $500,000 to defeat the proposal and has succeeded in weakening many of its key provisions and delaying a number of scheduled votes on it. Now there are reports that Commissioner Geoff Brown, who had previously announced his support for the Wood proposal, is working on an alternative proposal that furthers weakens the safeguards, including important privacy protections and disclosure rules on advertisements. Commissioner Kennedy, who had previously suggested exempting the wireless industry from the proposal, is also expected to unveil an alternative soon.
“The PUC has spent four years studying this proposal and bending over backwards to address the concerns raised by the wireless industry,” said Briesemeister. “Frankly, there’s not much left to compromise on and still maintain any meaningful help for consumers.”
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Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.