For Immediate Release:
April 1, 2003

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Contact: Dina Mendros or Lauren Townsend, 215-569-8220

The Campaign for Quality Telecommunications Service Announces its Telephone Customers' Bill of Right, Urges Legislators to Sign On

Harrisburg.  As our nation does battle, well-maintained communications systems are more vital then ever. That’s why Citizens for Consumer Justice (CCJ), Communications Workers of America, the Alliance for Retired Americans, small business owners and other members of CCJ’s Campaign for Quality Telecommunications Services urged members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to sign onto their Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights at a press conference and rally held in the East Wing Rotunda of the PA State Capital today.

Since the inception of the Campaign for Quality Telecommunications Services, CCJ and its coalition members have received phone calls from around the state from consumers complaining of problems with their telephone service. These complaints run the gamut of: long delays for repairs, inadequate repairs and need for repeated repairs, poor customer service and getting a verbal runaround from customer service personnel, technicians missing appointments, problems resolving billing issues and more. While competition exists in some of the urban areas, many customers have only one provider to choose from and therefore have no recourse. Because of this, CCJ became aware of the need for a Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights. Lauren Townsend, Executive Director of CCJ told rally participants, “Telephones are our lifelines. They are a necessity, not a luxury. That’s why we need quality, affordable, reliable telephone service for all Pennsylvanians.”

Correcting problems with service quality is a major component of the Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights. Speaking about how poor service effects seniors, Marty Berger, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, criticized the handling of customer service problems by some of the state’s incumbent local telephone companies. “Seniors depend of telephones probably more than most. If their phones are out of service, even for a short time, it could spell disaster. When they do call to report a problem they are often give a verbal runaround, and unless they report a medical emergency there is no guarantee how soon service will be repaired. Since some telephone providers seem more concerned with profits than doing right by those who create those profits - their customers, we need a Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights to force providers to do the right thing.”

“Telephones are lifelines,” said Berger.  “But some companies, such as Verizon, have deliberate corporate policies to reduce service requests. Customers - including seniors - are being told to walk around their house to figure out whether the problem is in the home wiring or outside. Not only is it dangerous, especially during bad weather, but many customers actually pay for the dispatch of a technician to test the line at no cost under the Guardian or Wire Maintenance Plan. This it not only contributes to poor customer service but it is also false advertising on the part of Verizon”

The link between poor service and workforce reductions by the state’s largest telephone provider, Verizon, was made by Vince Maisano, International Vice President of CWA District 13. He said, “Verizon’s workforce is being reduced while customers are getting inferior service. Over 2,600 positions have been eliminated in Pennsylvania in the past eighteen months without a reduction in the work necessary to be performed. That has a direct effect on service quality. Without an adequate workforce, repairs can’t take place in a timely manner, and the network itself can’t be maintained properly. In these insecure times, that is not only bad business but could also prove extremely dangerous. That’s why we need a Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights that will ensure quality customer service or penalize companies financially for non-compliance. “

“In addition,” Maisano continued, “It is the workers who are most knowledgeable about the problems within the companies they work for. In order for them to assist in supplying testimony to improve service, whistle-blower protection (another element of the Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights) is needed.”

Lauren Townsend discussed another measure of the Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights. “In the wake of several telecommunications companies having severe financial problems it is imperative to hold telephone providers accountable. The public is dependent on telephone service, so it’s important that their financial practices be transparent to a large degree.  For instance bad investments in other parts of the world have cost Verizon billions of dollars. They should be forced to make public how they spend their money so that we can ensure that our telephone service is not in jeopardy.

Another aspect of the Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights calls for the deployment of High-speed Internet Network across the state. Legislation was passed in 1993 to increase the incentive for the incumbent local telephone companies to deploy a High-speed Internet network across the Commonwealth in both urban and rural areas alike. However, this network has not been built and many areas of the state still remain without adequate High-speed access to the Internet. Small business owner Mike Donia complained about this lack of access. “In order for small business owners to be competitive they need equal access to the same telecommunications technology as afforded to giant corporations. This means the high speed fiber optic networks that have long been promised. The failure of the dominant telephone service providers to build this high-speed network in a timely manner is costing small businesses and consumers alike. The only reasonable solution is reform of the existing telecommunications laws allowing for the expedient implementation of this long awaited technology.”

PA Rep. Mike Veon (D-14), a leader on the consumer side of this issue spoke about the importance of High-speed access to the Internet for all Pennsylvanians. He said, “As one of the legislators who was deeply involved in writing the 1993 law, I’m disappointed it has not been enforced better. In the information age, the backbone of economic growth is access to information and knowledge; no element of the state’s infrastructure is more vital than telecommunications. This is an issue of basic fairness. People, schools and businesses in the state deserve to get the service they paid for.”

The Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights reads:

Whereas, telephones are a lifeline and that reliable, affordable, quality telephone service should be available for all;

Therefore, be it resolved that the following Telephone Customers’ Bill of Rights should be established. These rights include: 

Customers should be credited for the time period that their telephone is out of service; 

Incumbent local telephone providers should be financially penalized for customer service infractions such as not repairing problems in a timely manner, improper maintenance of their network and facilities, not resolving customer billing problems, etc.;

Whistle-blower protection should be granted to workers who testify at hearings about company policies;

Incumbent local telephone providers should be required to deploy a high-speed Internet network across the state in a timely manner or return extra earned profit resulting from the alternative rate structure to PA ratepayers;

Pennsylvania employee representation should be required to be on the investment boards of incumbent local phone companies;

Incumbent local telephone providers should be required to invest all profits earned in the Commonwealth in their Pennsylvania operations in areas such as jobs, infrastructure, service quality, etc.;

Incumbent local telephone providers should make public financial information such as how much money the company spent and in what areas;

Problems with the relay service for the hearing impaired should be addressed; penalties should be applied in cases of faulty service.

Background
In 1993 the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted Chapter 30 of the Public Utility Code that allowed incumbent local telephone service providers already doing business in the state to earn unlimited profits. That increased profit was to be reinvested in the building of a statewide high-speed digital broadband network that was to be deployed in rural and urban areas alike, and that was to position Pennsylvania ahead of the country as a leader of advanced telecommunications systems. Ideally job creation would be the outcome. Instead, for some providers, the ability to earn unlimited profits led to increasing attention to the bottom line and cost cutting measures such as the workforce reductions and facilities were put in place. The result for consumers has been declining service. Also deployment of broadband service has yet to take place in many areas of the state.

CCJ is documenting consumer complaints about local telephone service.  Those with complaints can call CCJ toll free at 1-877-841-9976 or go to the organization’s website www.ccjustice.org to send an email.


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