Consumers sentenced to more cell hell

New CPUC adopts governor’s opposition to consumer protections

For Immediate Release From The Utility Reform Network

In a shocking reversal of a 2004 decision the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today bowed to the wishes of the cellular industry and suspended its landmark ruling approving the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights. The move came after two of the three Commissioners who originally voted for the Bill of Rights had left the Commission, clearing the way for the dissenting Commissioners to go back and rewrite history.

Despite the modest nature of the rules, which allow consumers to cancel service that doesn’t work, require bills that are easier to read, and allow consumers to complain to the CPUC, the industry has fought them tooth and nail, fearing that other states would follow California’s example and adopt similar consumer protections.

The rules were originally passed after a lengthy, four-year investigation by the CPUC that was sparked by thousands of consumer complaints. Those complaints are likely to continue under today’s decision suspending the rules. "This is vigilante style regulation," said Bob Finkelstein, executive director of TURN, The Utility Reform Network. "There is no legal or procedural reason for today’s action, only a political one."

"The PUC has already bent over backwards to accommodate the industry’s complaints about implementing these rules," said Janee Briesemeister of Consumers Union’s EscapeCellHell.org campaign. "The Commission today went overboard in giving them what they want, ignoring the pleas of phone consumers to be treated as fairly as consumers of other goods and services are."

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that over 39,000 ConsumerReports.org subscribers in 17 cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, experienced chronic, major problems with service, billing, and complaint handling with every national wireless carrier.

"The decision today by the CPUC is not only a blow to telecom consumers, but it also severely impacts non-English speaking consumers who are already at a disadvantage. The industry targets them for marketing efforts and then hits them with huge bills full of charges they don’t understand. It’s too bad the Commission isn’t as concerned about them as it is about the industry" said Maria Camposeco, spokesperson for Communities for Telecom Rights.

"The message to the industry is clear," said Finkelstein. "Why implement a decision you don’t like? Just unleash your lobbyists and get the CPUC to reverse itself. The message to consumers is clear as well. You’ll have to fend for yourselves." Finkelstein indicated consumer groups intend to seek legislation that would reinstate the consumer protections.