A citizens' group yesterday charged Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and the District of Columbia Public Service Commission with sending out public notices on a pending phone rate case that were misleading because they did not spell out the size of the increase for residential customers.
The North Cleveland Park and Forest Hills Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which acts as a liaison between city agencies and the neighborhood and represents about 12,000 citizens, demanded that public hearings on the case be postponed until both C&P and the PSC issue more accurate and complete notices.
C&P, which asked for a $78.5 million rate increase last August, has reduced the request to $56.3 million. C&P sent yellow bill inserts to customers over a month ago about the request for a rate increase and the schedule for public hearings. ANC officials complained because the notices did not say how much residential bills stood to rise. A PSC public notice also does not specify what the average rate increase would be.
The original rate request would have raised residential bills by an average of 153 percent but would have increased business bills by an average of only 12 percent. C&P later modified its rate request but without spelling out how the increase would be allocated between residential and business customers. That will be determined in August, company officials said. Public hearings are currently scheduled on the modified request for March 2, April 9 and August 15.
"We are deeply concerned that the Public Service Commission and C&P have violated customer due process rights to full, complete. . . notice of proposed rate changes," wrote Gloria Corn and Christine Viezens of the advisory commission in a letter sent today to all 37 D.C. advisory neighborhood commissions, the PSC, the City Council, Mayor Marion Barry and the Office of the People's Counsel.
"In neither of those notices is the customer informed that C&P proposes to place the overwhelming bulk of the increase on the residential customer . . . ," they wrote. "Incomplete notice deprives the customer of the opportunity to speak to a material interest."
Viezens said that under a new D.C. law passed in December, a utility must pass out notices to the public concerning public hearings that "shall be sufficiently accurate and detailed for the rate payer to understand the filing, including the rate payer's affected interest."
C&P said it was violating no "statute, ordinance or PSC ruling" by not specifying the average rate increase in its bill inserts. Currently, C&P is not required to send out notices at all, except by specific order from the PSC. The company also said the new D.C. law does not become effective until March 13.
"Once the law goes into effect there is no dispute," said Web Chamberlin, a C&P spokesman. "What's precise will have to be determined by the commission; maybe the commission will give out the notices."
A PSC official said the commission had "attempted to strike a balance between providing detail and providing a public notice which would be understandable." A complete copy of the C&P rate filing is available for review by the public, he said.
City Council member Betty Ann Kane said that although the new legislation only applies to cases after its effective date, the PSC notice "is a very example of the kind of problem that made the new legislation necessary." The notices sent out by C&P and the PSC don't "fit with the spirit of informing consumers," she said.