P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 8, 1998
AUSTIN - Some telecommunications companies apparently have not gotten the message that slamming and other deceptive marketing ploys will not be tolerated in Texas.
A bill filed today by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, drives that message home by expanding basic consumer rights and giving the state the power it needs to enforce them.
The Telecommunications and Electric Services Customer Protection Act of 1999 - which would also apply to electricity providers should that industry be opened up for competition in the upcoming legislative session - removes a loophole in current law that has allowed some long distance providers to continue misleading trade practices such as slamming and cramming.
Slamming occurs when a customers service provider changes without his or her consent, while cramming is the practice of billing for services that have not been authorized by the consumer. Both are side effects from de-regulation of the telecommunications industry, which has increased competition among telephone service providers.
There are certain things that Texans should be able to depend on, and electricity and phone service are definitely among them. While competition has offered Texans great advantages and opportunities, it is imperative that we create a framework that puts consumers first, Nelson said.
Slamming was outlawed during the last legislative session, but enforcement has been slow and cumbersome because the PUC was hindered by a 30-day remedy clause in the Public Utilities Regulatory Act which allows companies to escape penalties if they prove their actions were not intentional and if they correct their mistakes within that time frame.
The Nelson bill removes the 30-day clause and gives the PUC explicit regulatory oversight with penalty options that range from fines to license revocation. In addition, the bill expands consumer protections by taking on cramming, which was not addressed during the last session but is now a big problem for consumers. Last fiscal year alone, the PUC received 5,253 complaints from consumers who had been charged for services they did not authorize by their telephone providers.
The Nelson bill includes a list of guaranteed rights for telecommunications and electric services customers that the PUC will have broad authority to enforce. Under the bill, all customers have the right to:
- Protection from unfair, misleading or deceptive practices, including protection from being billed for services that were not authorized or provided.
- Choose their own certified telecommunications utility or an electric utility, where such a choice is permitted by law.
- Information concerning rates, key terms and conditions.
- Impartial and prompt resolution of disputes with providers.
- Privacy of costumer consumption and credit information.
- Accuracy of metering and billing.
- Bills presented in a clear, readable format and easy-to-understand language.