Consumers urged to check bills for excessive fees
HARTFORD -- As utility and Internet bills start arriving in mailboxes, state and national officials warn consumers to double-check the amount they owe, which could be drastically reduced because of the Halloween weekend storm.
You should not have to pay for days when you were without electricity or other public services, they said. People from the offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General George Jepsen and the Connecticut Better Business Bureau are ready to help.
"The main point is that consumers should check their bills and make sure they receive refunds or reimbursements, that their accounts are credited for when they did not receive this service," Blumenthal said Monday.
"Consumers should demand refunds," he said during a news conference in the Capitol complex. "They should refuse to pay bills for periods when service was stopped. We're prepared to stand with consumers in complaints to federal agencies or review by federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission, or Congress if there is a need for additional action."
Blumenthal said that cable TV providers like Comcast and others seem to be reacting appropriately, giving consumers credit of up to 13 days for lack of service. "They are declining to charge for periods when service was not provided, and we've been assured that they will continue that policy, whatever the contract provisions say."
Still, consumers "should watch their bills like a hawk," Blumenthal said. "Read them carefully, be aware and wary so that you are not billed. You should ask or demand refunds if there are charges on the bill for periods when service ... was not provided."
Howard Schwartz, executive communications director for the Connecticut Better Business Bureau, agreed, suggesting that consumers examine their statements carefully and to make sure they receive credit.
"Customer service representatives are generally responsive to billing inquiries and requests for these kinds of credits," Schwartz said. " If consumers feel they are being unjustly charged for services they did not receive -- regardless of the reason -- they should contact a customer service representative."
Jepsen's office said Monday that it took more than 100 phone and email complaints following the October nor'easter, 90 percent of which were about the loss of electric service and about 5 percent were about the loss of cable services.
Also on Monday, Jepsen and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz announced they have asked the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to "clarify" parameters of its investigation of storm-related service interruptions during the Aug. 27 tropical storm and the Oct. 29 snowstorm.
Jepsen and Katz, in a motion filed in state Superior Court on Friday, said that PURA's probe should also include Connecticut's telecom, natural gas and water utility companies, as well as Connecticut Light & Power and the United Illuminating Co.
Jepsen wants information about the utilities' communications as well as data on crews brought in from out of state and their payment. Last week, PURA officials agreed to Jepsen's request for a management audit into CL&P's preparedness and response.
Earlier this month, Jepsen asked telecom, cable, TV and Internet services to waive charges for periods when their customers were without service and to be awarded credit for time their were unable to access services.
As of the end of business Monday, six cable and TV service providers had responded to Jepsen, agreeing to provide credits for the period the customer was without service, whether it was because service was not available or because their power was out.
But in most cases, in order to obtain credit, customers need to call their services and report when they lost service and when it was restored. Jepsen's office said that it had heard back from Cox, Comcast, Metrocast, Cablevision and Charter, and AT&T for its U-Verse television service.