Saving you money on your monthly bills has always been at the core of TURN’s work. This year, TURN continued to rack up billions in savings for California consumers, defeating several unfair and unjustified utility schemes that would have raised your rates substantially.
Holding corporations accountable is also a key part of TURN’s mission. This year TURN’s staff succeeded in doing this in so many cases that we couldn’t include them all in the annual report, so I wanted to share a few of my personal favorites with you.
Stood Up to AT&T’s Persistent Bullying
AT&T is still trying to bully TURN for our role in stopping its $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile in 2011. TURN organized hundreds of people across the state to attend CPUC public hearings to oppose AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile because our experience shows that mega-mergers deliver very few benefits to consumers. In retaliation, AT&T has spent years fighting to reverse the CPUC’s well–reasoned decision awarding TURN compensation for our work representing California telephone customers in the merger case.
General Counsel Bob Finkelstein, in addition to his leadership in fighting Southern California utility rate hikes, has represented TURN in the State Court of Appeals several times, standing up to a high-priced team of AT&T corporate sharks who are willing to invest countless resources in bullying and intimidating TURN.
Empty Promises from Gas Companies
Dozens of TURN members contacted us in 2017 to complain about phony promises and hard sell marketing tactics by companies known as Core Transport Agents (CTAs) that are trying to compete with utility companies to provide natural gas to residential consumers. These third-party gas providers, such as Vista Energy Marketing, Tiger Natural Gas, and Spark Energy Gas, attract customers with promises of huge monthly savings that don’t always materialize. Natural gas prices are volatile, and these alternate companies will only provide the gas itself- customers are still subject to utility rate hikes for gas transportation and distribution.
Our newest staff attorney David Cheng, based in our San Diego office, working with organizing director Ana Montes, has taken the lead in developing policy recommendations to the CPUC to put a stop to deceptive marketing claims that promise people lower monthly bills without any commitment to keeping those promises. In fact, many consumers have complained to TURN that their gas bills are higher than ever. If the CPUC fails to adopt key TURN recommendations, we will bring the issue to the Legislature.
Deceptive AT&T Notices STOPPED
Last summer, we received dozens of complaints from upset TURN members about notices from AT&T that suggested landline telephone service was being discontinued in their area. San Diego Managing Attorney Christine Maillouxwas concerned that these notices were designed to trick customers into giving up their landlines when they had the right to keep them- a right TURN has vigorously defended.
Mailloux contacted the CPUC and demanded a stop to AT&T’s deceptive notices that threatened to disconnect service unless customers switched their landline phones to digital services. Better yet, she convinced the CPUC to make AT&T send out new notices clarifying to customers that they did not need to change phone service, and that they could be switched back to landline service at no charge.
More Sunshine for Solar Sales
TURN heard from several members that after leasing solar panels the savings they’d been promised by marketers didn’t materialize. Purchasers of solar panels have also complained that their bills did not go down as much as they expected.
Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez–Fletcher (D-San Diego) heard similar complaints from her constituents and contacted TURN for policy advice. Staff Attorney Elise Torres helped her craft AB 1070, the Solar Customer Bill of Rights. Sponsored by TURN, and adopted in 2017, AB 1070 requires companies to provide consumers with a standard disclosure document before they purchase, lease or finance a solar energy system. The bill also makes the Department of Consumer Affairs responsible for resolving complaints against solar companies and for overseeing residential rooftop solar energy providers so that a process is in place to resolve consumer disputes in this emerging industry.
Remember, you can help us celebrate all of these victories and much more at our 45thgala in San Francisco in May. Details are on the back cover.
Hoping to see you there,