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PacBell to Credit DSL Customers

Telecom: As part of tentative settlement with PUC, firm agrees to compensate for future billing errors.

July 06, 2002|CHRISTINE FREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SBC Pacific Bell will credit customers one month of high-speed Internet service or $25 toward their telephone accounts for billing errors as part of its tentative settlement with the state Public Utilities Commission.

In addition to paying a $27-million fine, the telephone company, which admitted that it improperly billed as many as 70,000 customers for digital-subscriber line, or DSL, service since January 2000, agreed to improve billing practices and compensate customers for future billing errors.

Customers will receive two free months of DSL service or a $50 credit toward their telephone accounts if billing errors are not corrected within 90 days. The credit will apply only to customers who are incorrectly billed after the settlement agreement takes effect.

SBC Pacific Bell, a unit of San Antonio-based SBC Communications Corp., also agreed to provide better records of customer complaints, submitting quarterly reports to the PUC's Consumer Services Division. In April, Pacific Bell opened a DSL Internet billing center to answer customer billing questions.

Though satisfied with the tentative agreement, consumer groups said the company's billing problems would not be solved soon.

"Are the problems over? No, and the company pretty much acknowledged that," said Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a San Diego consumer group that is a party to the settlement.

Pacific Bell said in the 20-page settlement agreement filed late Wednesday that it received complaints from customers who were charged for services they did not receive or order, billed for services that it promoted as free and charged for services that had been terminated.

The company attributes many of the errors to the "difficult process" of transferring its DSL services to a separate unit, SBC Advanced Solutions Inc. In addition, the third-party vendor that handled DSL billing inquiries could not access customer service records.

The company declined to comment Friday.

If the settlement agreement is approved by the commission, Pacific Bell must pay the $27-million fine--one of the largest ever--to the state general fund.

"It'll definitely send the message to other telecommunication carriers that they need to follow commission rules and regulations and provide their customers with fair and upright service," PUC spokeswoman Sheri Inouye said.

But others, such as Mike Jackman, executive director of the California ISP Assn., say they doubt that the settlement will have much of an effect.

The association has complained to state regulators that Pacific Bell is trying to control the state's DSL market.

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