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Edison's Bid to Expand Newspaper Tie-In Denied

Trade: Utility hoped to build on its L.A. Times subscription offer, but PUC opposes program.


SAN FRANCISCO — State regulators on Thursday voted down a proposal by Southern California Edison to expand its pilot program of offering new customers subscriptions to The Times.

With little discussion, the California Public Utilities Commission voted 5 to 0 against expanding the program, and President Loretta Lynch said it was a mistake to have conditionally approved the program in January 2000.

At a previous meeting, commissioners raised a barrage of concerns--that the arrangement could hurt competing newspapers and telemarketing companies, that it might erode Edison customer service, that the privacy of utility customers might be violated and that newspaper coverage of the utility could be blunted.

Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said the company for the time being will continue the solicitation, hoping the commission staff will come up with an alternative proposal acceptable to the full commission. The utility wants to expand the program to three newspapers, to be determined by competitive bid.

Times spokeswoman Martha Goldstein said the program "is well within the norms of the newspaper industry.... A newspaper has business relationships with many large companies, many of which we cover."

Edison estimated that about 150,000 of the 1 million customers who call about service connections each year would receive newspaper solicitations. Over the last three years, 212,000 Edison customers were asked if they wanted to take The Times--and utility officials say 6% to 7% of those solicitations resulted in subscriptions.

Edison officials say they have not received any customer complaints about the solicitation. "We believe that customers have appreciated the convenience of this service," said Director of Customer Programs and Services Lynda Ziegler.

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