Pa. consumer utility complaints swelled in 1999

Oct. 14, 2000
More Pennsylvanians complained about shabby treatment from the state's major utility companies last year, and one of the biggest culprits was Verizon Corp., the state's largest telephone company, according to a new report.

By TIMOTHY D. MAY

LANCASTER, Pa., Oct. 12, 2000 (Intelligencer Journal)—More Pennsylvanians complained about shabby treatment from the state's major utility companies last year, and one of the biggest culprits was Verizon Corp., the state's largest telephone company, according to a new report.

Released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the report shows residential consumers filed about 17,700 complaints with the PUC in 1999 — a 33 percent increase from 1998 — after experiencing service hassles with their telephone, electric, gas or water companies.

Complaints about telephone utilities accounted for 52 percent of those reported; complaints about electric companies accounted for 35 percent; 9 percent were about gas companies; and water problems accounted for 4 percent. The report examined only utilities with at least 100,000 customers.

Many consumer beefs involved billing and metering matters. Others included missed appointments for repairs and installation, unsatisfactory work, rude treatment by employees, and service disconnections or interruptions.

In its analysis, the PUC counted only complaints from customers who had first contacted the utilities about the problems. Those who complained only to the PUC were excluded from the analysis.

Of the companies examined by the commission's bureau of consumer services, more customers — nearly 3,500 — reported having service difficulties with the former Bell Atlantic-Pennsylvania — now Verizon Corp. — than with any other, said Mitch Miller, director of the bureau of consumer services.

Among electric companies, the biggest increase in complaints in 1999 involved PECO Energy and PP&L Inc. Overall, the PUC fielded almost 4,200 complaints about the six largest electric utilities last year, an increase of about 20 percent over 1998.

"There were a number of companies where we saw a deterioration in service," Miller said Tuesday. "One company we're most concerned about is Verizon."

Most of the complaints from Verizon customers centered on installation and repair delays or unsatisfactory work by technicians, and Miller said his office has been meeting with company officials to try to correct the problems.

A spokesman for Verizon said some of the dissatisfaction last year may have been caused by a reorganization of technicians that resulted in some workers responding only to complaints from commercial customers, while others handled only residential problems.

"We're redirecting our outside work force" to allow any available technician to respond to any service call, said Harry Mitchell, the spokesman. He added that while complaints rose in 1999, the number of unhappy consumers represented a "very, very small fraction of our overall customer" base of about 3.9 million people in Pennsylvania.

A PECO spokesman said Tuesday that he had not yet seen the report and could not immediately comment.

The PUC report also shows the largest electric, telephone and gas utilities took longer to respond to complaints than they did a year ago.

The electric industry took an average of four more days to respond while gas utilities took about a day longer and telephone companies took a half-a-day more than they did in 1998.

© 2000 Intelligencer Journal Lancaster, PA via Bell&Howell Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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