Thursday, December 17, 2009

PSC Modifies Final Disconnect Notice Requirements for Verizon’s Customers

Deep within the New York State Public Service Commission’s (“PSC”) regulations regarding telephone consumer protections is language which is required to be included in all final suspension and termination notices. This required language includes the phrase: PLEASE BRING THIS NOTICE TO THE ATTENTION OF THE TELEPHONE CORPORATION WHEN PAYING THIS BILL.

When originally implemented in 1984, it was thought this phrase was essential because there was a lag in the phone company’s billing system between when a customer's payment was made and the posting of that payment to the customer’s account. At that time, the only ways a bill could be paid were through the mail and by making a payment in person at the phone company or through an authorized agent. It made sense to have the customer remind the company that a payment was made to make sure it was timely posted. Now that payments can be posted in real time, Verizon requested that the PSC waive this requirement for its customers as it is no longer needed.

The company argued in its waiver petition that “its customers now have more choices in making bill payments consisting of use of the Company’s automated telephone system, the Company’s website, on-line payments through the customer's bank, or through use of a debit or credit card. All of these payment options allow instantaneous posting of the payment to the customer’s account.” Verizon added that customers will continue to be protected because the rules also require non-payment situations to be verified prior to suspension or termination of service (section 609.4(f)) and for payments to be rapidly posted in response to suspension or termination notices (section 609.4(g)).

In its December 16th decision on Verizon’s request , the PSC agreed with Verizon that the company’s efforts to avoid loss of service after a payment is made “diminish the likelihood that a residential customer, who is willing [] either to pay or make payment arrangements to pay, will not have service terminated.” Accordingly, Verizon’s waiver request regarding application of this specific language was approved. This provision will continue to apply to termination notices of all other local telephone providers in the state.

Will the loss of this provision for Verizon’s customers have a negative impact on those trying to make a payment to avoid termination? It appears that technological advances may have made this requirement unnecessary. Since the language remains in the regulation, should problems arise, the waiver can be withdrawn.

See PULP's Law manual chapter on telephone consumer protections under the PSC's "Telephone Fair Practices Act" regulations for further information.

Lou Manuta

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