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Wires Crossed on a Phone Disconnection

February 19, 1987|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: In late December, I paid my regular telephone bill to Pacific Bell and thought no more about it. On Jan. 19, my phone stopped working, and I called to report it was out of order. I was told by the phone company representative that it had been disconnected because of non-payment of the bill.

I had to drive to the Pacific Bell office and pay the bill--overdue through no fault of mine--before they would reconnect my service. I said I had not gotten a disconnect notice and was told by the representative that Pacific Bell no longer sends them out. I think the phone company should continue to send disconnect notices. If they had, I would have known that they never got the check I sent.

I also can't avoid thinking that Pac Bell has some sort of "redlining" in effect here. Friends of mine who live in "better" neighborhoods don't get disconnected after a few days--the delinquent bill is just added to their next bill.--L.S.

Answer: Something has fallen through the cracks here. According to Toni Sanchez, a manager in Pacific Bell's residence account service center, the Public Utilities Commission requires that a separate "disconnect" notice be sent out when the deadline has been passed without payment by a newly established customer. And there's a seven-day grace period.

You're not "newly established," however, which simply means that if you miss one bill (no, your neighborhood doesn't have anything to do with it), the balance is carried over to the next month's bill. It's on this second, carry-over, bill that the grace period is, again, spelled out. This time, though, Sanchez adds, the bill also includes the notice that failure to pay by then can result in a temporary interruption of service, a visit to the local Pac Bell office, the payment of a deposit (based on usage) and the additional payment of a $20 reconnect charge.

If this is the case, then, the bill you paid did contain the disconnect threat, because it was a carry-over bill, she says.

But obviously there are at least two or three "cracks" here into which you could--and obviously did--fall.

For openers, as an examination of the portion of the bill you sent me establishes, there is, indeed, no disconnect threat. Well, Sanchez explains, "established" customer or not, it is entirely possible that for some reason, you have been red-tagged and an exception to the above comes into play.

When the due date on the carry-over bill passed without payment, you were then supposed to receive a separate disconnect notice--except, you tell me, you received no such separate notice.

Even if your carry-over bill had contained the standard disconnect threat, though, you would probably have disregarded it because you were paying the bill in plenty of time to avoid such an unpleasantness-- ergo, it was a meaningless threat.

By the same token, you had no way of knowing that your check was going to get lost in the post-Christmas mail, and so a follow-up disconnect threat probably would have been ignored too. You would have simply assumed the check and the threat crossed in the mail.

All of which, one might think, is more "cracks" for falling through than one likes to see in a process than can result in the abrupt disconnection of an essential service.

Don G. Campbell cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to consumer questions of general interest. Write to Consumer VIEWS, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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