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Fix billing woes or face penalties, Conectiv told
By BILL YINGLING Staff reporter
Delaware's top utility regulator on Monday told Conectiv to fix its billing system and provide angry customers a way to vent their frustrations or it could face penalties.
The Delaware Public Service Commission continues to receive about 50 calls a day from customers complaining about their utility bills. Some said they haven't received bills. Others said their monthly statements are incorrect. Many said the company's phone lines are jammed and they can't get through.
Conectiv has apologized for the inconveniences caused by its new computer billing system launched in December. Managers said the number of customer calls and flawed bills is declining. But they said it could take months before the system works as intended.
Until then, state regulators believe they will continue receiving calls from dissatisfied customers. PSC Chairman Robert McMahon, who said he has received calls from frustrated customers at his Sussex County home, said regulators are hiring two temporary staffers to help take the complaints.
McMahon urged Conectiv to find a way to ensure that customers reach a company representative instead of a busy signal when they call. And McMahon said Conectiv should solve its problems quickly.
"If they don't do it, there will be punitive action taken," he said in an interview after Monday's regular commission meeting.
The PSC can impose fines or order utilities to take specific actions to protect the public interest.
"You have got to take steps to correct this immediately," McMahon told Conectiv lawyer Randall Griffin. "This has gone on for over a month now and we want it stopped.''
Griffin defended the company. "We're trying to correct all the mistakes we can find," he said.
Conectiv spokes-man Mike Ratchford said the problems are complicated.
"There are no immediate quick fixes here," Ratchford said.
Conectiv spokesman Ted Caddell said Conectiv has 156 customer service representatives trained to take calls. It added about 45 telephone call takers during the past month and plans to train another 28 during the coming weeks.
PSC staffers are pressuring the company to solve the billing and the customer service problems. But to save time, they're trying to do it without forcing the company into a lengthy regulatory proceeding.
But the staff and the state's public advocate said they could have little choice if the current negotiations fail.
Conectiv has acknowledged mailing up to 8,000 erroneous bills and receiving thousands more calls from its customers during the past two months.
PSC staffers believe Conectiv used an incorrect method of calculating bills and may have sent out many more incorrect bills than managers acknowledged. Conectiv denies it has changed its billing methods.
Pat Stowell, Delaware's public advocate, said Conectiv is losing favorable public opinion it built through many years of good customer service.
"What it looks like, in my opinion, is that they don't know what to do," Stowell said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 01, 2000