Consumer complaints rise against state’s telephone companies

The Associated Press
Monday May 21, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO – Complaints against some of the state’s largest telephone companies are on the rise, according to an analysis of 47,000 complaints filed with state utility regulators over the past two years, a newspaper reported. 

Complaints against AT&T soared 87 percent, excluding its wireless unit, and went to 47 percent against Pacific Bell, according to a San Francisco Chronicle analysis. The gripes also more than doubled against Sprint PCS. 

Watchdog groups said the complaints signal the need for heightened consumer protection rules and increased enforcement of existing laws.  

Critics said regulators like the California Public Utilities Commission have failed to address complaints, including those concerning problems with high-speed Internet access via phone lines, wireless companies’ rapid growth and confusing long-distance fees. 

“I think it’s a pretty good sign the PUC has been asleep at the switch,” said Regina Costa of The Utility Reform Network in San Francisco. “People who think that this industry will run itself are crazy.” 

Early last year, the PUC took steps to address customer gripes. A telecommunications “bill of rights” was proposed, which would have protected consumers from cramming, slamming, hidden fees and other phone company abuses. 

PUC Commissioner Carl Wood had said the new rules could go into effect last fall.  

But regulators put the proposal aside last summer after the state was hit with threats of rolling blackouts and rising energy costs. 

Now, PUC officials don’t expect to vote on the proposal until at least this fall, possibly later. 

Meanwhile, phone companies say consumers don’t need any additional regulations to protect them. 

AT&T spokesman H. Gordon Diamond said the proposal could raise phone companies’ costs and force consumer rate hikes. He said more enforcement of existing legislation is in order, rather than new regulations.