Letter From Our ED—June 2006

TURN’s advocacy efforts take a variety of shapes in a number of different forums.

In many ways we are known best for the work of our staff advocates who appear before the Public Utilities Commission and the state legislature to present the views of the state’s millions of small consumers on utility issues. But those efforts wouldn’t be as successful as they are without the behind-the-scenes work educating our members and the general public, and encouraging them to get involved.

While this work is always critical, it is even more so when, as now, the CPUC is driven more by ideology than well-reasoned, fact-based arguments. The Commission appears to be afflicted by a deaf ear and a blind eye for the public interest perspective. That makes it more important than ever for the public itself to remind the agency that the “P” in PUC stands for the tens of millions of Californians that pay utility bills every month, not the handful of companies getting rich by providing those services.

TURN’s May newsletter highlights a number of the areas that are the current targets of TURN’s outreach efforts. In the next month there will be a series of public participation hearings throughout northern California to address the PG&E proposal to increase its gas and electric distribution rates by more than $700 million dollars per year. And that doesn’t even include greedy grabs for certain pension costs or their “advanced metering” crusade, all told, the utility is looking to increase its rates by upwards of $1 billion. And the lion’s share of that amount falls on residential and small business consumers.

Not all of the threats to consumers come with such a clear price tag:

Our continuing efforts to revive a telecommunications “Bill of Rights” worthy of the title (as opposed to the sham package the PUC adopted with that label) include getting basic information into consumers’ hands to enable them to better understand their options for service. We encourage you to use TURN’s Cell Phone Worksheet when shopping for cell phone service.

The phone monopolies have recently called for “deaveraging” in order to allow them to undercut competitors in the few places where competition exists, but keep prices high where they face no competition. If the PUC gives in to these demands, California will face the worst of all worlds from a consumer perspective, a monopoly service provider able to charge whatever prices it chooses, rather than a just and reasonable rate. TURN is in the early stages of a campaign to raise public awareness of this threat and prevent SBC and Verizon from gaining such absolute control over phone services.

TURN also fields a number of calls and emails from consumers with complaints or questions about their utility service. While our staff resources are not sufficient to help get each complaint resolved, we’ve come up with a number of ways to help consumers better navigate the often tortuous pathways of the utility or agency “assistance” operations. In this newsletter you’ll find some of those tips on how to deal with the regulated utilities when there are problems with your service or your bill.

At a time when consumer interests seem to be last on the list of CPUC priorities (if they make the list at all), it is important to use every available tool to raise consumer voices and remind the Commission that their duty is to promote the public interest. The more they hear from consumers, the better the chance that regulators will remember that giving greedy utility companies everything they ask for is not their job.

Sincerely,

Executive Director
Bob Finkelstein