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PSC tells Conectiv to fix billing issues Firm ordered to notify customers of deductions Special to News Journal/CARLA VARISCO
By BILL YINGLING Staff reporter 02/29/2000
The Delaware Public Service Commission voted to open a formal case Monday in an attempt to resolve widespread problems with Conectiv's billing and customer-service operations.
Regulators also ordered the company to notify customers before automatically deducting utility payments from bank accounts.
"You clearly have violated the contract you have with your customers," said commissioner John McClelland.
The PSC examined the issue after its staff made an emergency request to force Conectiv to address the billing concerns. Since Conectiv's new computer system was installed Dec. 11, customers have complained of inflated bills and long waits on the telephone for customer service.
Peter Clark, Conectiv's general counsel, argued that Monday's hearing was illegal because the PSC had not given the company 20 days' notice to prepare. As a result, the five-member panel said it was restricted Monday in the actions it could take.
"Legally, we are bound up and we can do very little about it," said commission chairman Robert McMahon. "I'm incensed." The commission said it would make the orders formal at its next scheduled meeting March 14.
PSC staff had asked the utility to halt the automatic-payment program unless customers verified in writing that they wanted to continue their enrollment.
They also wanted Conectiv managers to conduct public meetings to hear complaints. Staffers also had asked the company be ordered to open six walk-in service centers in Delaware.
The company plans to open four walk-in centers.
By opening a case, commissioners gave Conectiv formal notice that it can force them to fix the problems by imposing penalties. The commission's action Monday means that Conectiv must find a way to make sure customers in the automatic-payment program are notified before the company deducts money from their bank accounts.
"We'll take whatever immediate steps we can to address it," Michael Ratchford, a Conectiv spokesman, said.
Three customers testified under oath to the commission Monday about the troubles they have been having with the company.
Nancy Huston, manager of the Pebble Hill apartment complex in Wilmington, said the complex's monthly bill this time of year is ordinarily about $8,000. But last week, it received a bill for $3.7 million.
Huston said she has had trouble dealing with customer-service representatives with prior billing issues and has not been able to settle this problem.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), February 29, 2000
Here is the January article. There has been several in between.
Conectiv's bills anger customers Some say they've been overcharged By BILL YINGLING Staff reporter 01/14/2000
Conectiv customers, many complaining they were charged too much for electricity, clogged the utility's telephone system this week.
Company executives blamed the billing problems on a new computer system installed in December.
Delaware Public Service Commission staffers said they also received numerous complaints about Conectiv's bills. They've asked the company for an explanation. Conectiv said it will respond in writing today.
"This is a basic and a vital service, and customers need to feel like they're getting their questions answered adequately and the service provided to them in a reliable way," said Bruce Burcat, executive director of the commission.
Not all bills are incorrect, said J. Mack Wathen, Conectiv's director of finance and government affairs. Many customers are just confused by a new billing format.
Conectiv executives say they are working out the flaws in the system. Customers should study their bills for inaccuracies, the company said, so credits or corrections can be made to utility accounts.
Executives are waiving late fees for this billing cycle. They say corrections to the system may not be complete for several months.
"We certainly apologize to customers for any inconvenience," Wathen said.
The new billing system is the latest challenge facing Conectiv's customer service operation.
After power outages in July when customers complained of not being able to reach the company by phone, regulators launched an investigation into the way Conectiv handles customers and their complaints. The PSC also is examining the reliability of the company's electricity supply system.
"Things to me have changed," said John Sacher, a teacher and customer who lives in Brandywine Hundred.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 29, 2000.