CPUC Sentences Consumers to More Frustration

Decision ignores problems with SBC and Verizon phone service quality

For Immediate Release From The Utility Reform Network

Consumer frustration with endless automated messages and long waits for telephone repairs and installations is likely to continue under a decision reached today by the California Public Utilities Commission. The Commission assessed service quality at California’s largest phone companies and concluded that things are fine under existing rules.

The rules, known as the New Regulatory Framework or NRF have, for the past decade, given SBC and Verizon increased financial incentives to cut costs without providing any countervailing incentives to maintain or improve service quality.

After a lengthy investigation, an administrative law judge agreed with TURN and other consumer representatives that customer service at SBC and Verizon has been spotty at best since the NRF regulations took effect. But Commissioners Susan Kennedy and Michael Peevey concluded that the utilities’ service quality had been good, and came up with a statistical analysis that attempted to prove the point. "This is more a case of playing with numbers than playing fair," said Bob Finkelstein, Supervising Attorney for TURN, The Utility Reform Network. "The Commission found a way to analyze the data that ignored consumers actual experiences and their complaints."

One of the measurements employed in the Kennedy/Peevey analysis compared SBC’s service companies in other states, and found that there were companies that performed even worse than SBC. "That’s cold comfort to consumers," said Finkelstein. "When you’ve been trying to reach a live person at the phone company for over an hour, does it make it less frustrating to know that someone in another state waited longer?"

The administrative law judge concluded that under current regulations, SBC customers had been subject to, among other things:

  • High numbers of service outages that lasted as long as 50 hours before service was restored;
  • longer waits before being able to reach service reps; and
  • long waits for phone installation.

Verizon customers have had to put up with:

  • Insufficient service;
  • long waits for installation and
  • high incidences of problems for business customers requiring repairs.

Finkelstein said what the Commission finds adequate most consumers find annoying, frustrating, insulting and, in some cases, dangerous. "Is it possible the Commission’s own phone service is so bad that they can’t hear consumers complaining?" he asked.