Bernice Keebler had a simple complaint: Verizon billed her $4.19 for six "local calls" but wouldn't tell her where she'd called - not unless she got a lawyer and a subpoena.
To Keebler, that stretched the bounds of fair dealing beyond the breaking point. "I think I have the right to know what I am paying for," she told me in a column about her case last month. Keebler likened the experience to getting a tab at a restaurant with a bottom line for "food," but no details to review or question.
A Public Utility Commission judge agreed. In a decision released today by the PUC's communications office, Administrative Law Judge Mary D. Long proposed fining Verizon Pennsylvania $1,000 for failing in its duty to provide "adequate customer service":
It is a basic matter of fair business practice that a consumer should be able to contact a utility about a charge on a bill and learn what the charge is for and learn that the charge was correctly applied. The only verification that Verizon’s witness could offer that a charge like Mrs. Keebler’s $4.19 measured use charge was accurate and billed correctly was her faith in the accuracy of Verizon’s computer system. The only way that Verizon would offer any information about a past charge in response to a consumer inquiry was to require that customer to hire a lawyer and subpoena their own usage information. By no reasonable standard could this be considered reasonable customer service.