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CU Urges California regulators to reject delay of new cell phone rules

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Christine Mailloux, TURN
Mindy Spatt, TURN
415-929-8876, ext. 306
Janee Briesemeister, Consumers Union
512-477-4431, ext 117

Consumer Groups Urge Commission to Reject Industry Pleas to Dismantle Rules

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) – Consumer groups are urging the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to turn down a proposal that would prevent implementation of a new set of consumer protections for phone customers. On January 27, the CPUC is scheduled to vote on an indefinite stay of the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights, which provides basic protections for consumers including landmark rights for millions of cell phone users throughout the state.
“The CPUC has already bent over backwards to accommodate the concerns raised by phone carriers and now it is poised to scuttle these rules before they go into effect,” said Janee Briesemeister of Consumers Union’s EscapeCellHell.org campaign. “Consumers have waited long enough for these protections and there is simply no justification for putting the rules on indefinite hold.”
The proposed delay was rushed through the CPUC by Commissioner Susan Kennedy on the heels of the departure of two members of the PUC who had supported the new rules. Former Commissioners Carl Wood and Loretta Lynch, whose terms came to an end on December 31, voted in support of the nation’s first Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights last May. That vote was the culmination of a four year process that opponents of the rules now hope to derail, in flagrant violation of normal CPUC procedures.
Commission President Michael Peevey and Kennedy vocally opposed the consumer safeguards, as did Governor Schwarzenegger, who rebuked the CPUC for passing the rules. The Governor has named Steve Poizner and Dian Grueneich to replace the departing CPUC members. Consumers groups believe that Commissioners Kennedy and Peevey and Governor Schwarzenegger hope to dismantle the rules altogether.
“The CPUC has already determined that these safeguards are reasonable and needed,” said TURN attorney Christine Mailloux. “Nothing has changed since the rules were adopted last May other than the political make-up of the Commission. Permitting politics to trump that decision would make a mockery of the CPUC’s process and would be as harmful to the agency as it would be to consumers.”
Among the most significant protections provided by the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights is a provision that gives consumers a 30-day right to cancel a contract without penalty. This will allow a consumer to be sure the service works where they need it to work and where the company said it would work. Other provisions require phone companies to clearly delineate government mandated charges from discretionary fees and charges and disclosure of key rates, terms, and conditions in writing.
A recent Consumer Reports survey underscores the need for these new protections. The survey of over 39,000 ConsumerReports.org subscribers in 17 cities, including Los Angles, San Diego and San Francisco, found that consumers experienced chronic, major problems with service, billing, and complaint handling with every national carrier.
At least 83 percent of those responding to the Consumer Reports survey had trouble shopping for wireless phone service and 52 percent complained that they had to sign up for a long contract to get the best price. When trying to compare plans from competing carriers, 43 percent found it difficult to figure out the true cost of the service. Overall levels of satisfaction for wireless service remain lower than for most other services that Consumer Reports rates. More information on the Consumer Reports survey is available online at: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_telecom_and_utilities/001768.html
Consumers Union and TURN along with the National Consumer Law Center, Utility Consumers Action Network, and AARP, filed comments with the CPUC on Tuesday urging its members to reject the proposed stay of the rules. The comments are available online by clicking here.