Phone Companies Winners in Assembly Panel Vote


Stiff opposition from the state's largest phone companies last week helped kill a bill aimed at providing protection to California phone customers.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), failed to pass in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, where the effort died after a 3-1 vote, with seven committee members abstaining.

"The idea was to take away the incentive to mislead or pressure people" into buying extra phone services, Bowen said. "But the telephone companies were really all over this bill, and I think they worked over the committee members pretty hard."

Bowen said she had amended the bill in an attempt to assuage phone company concerns. Pacific Bell, GTE, MCI WorldCom and the Cellular Carriers Assn. of California opposed the bill, while three consumer rights groups were listed in support.

Michael Keenan, a Pacific Bell spokesman said the bill contained a lot of ambiguity.

"You don't have to look any farther than the committee's vote to see that a lot of people had concerns about the bill," he said.

Bowen's bill, nicknamed the Telephone Consumers Bill of Rights, would have given customers a 10-day right of rescission on new features and services. In addition, it would have required phone companies to give customers neutral information about caller ID blocking options, complete pricing information in service advertisements and written notices of features and services once they are ordered.

The measure also would have limited customer deposit requirements; prohibited phone companies from refusing service to consumers who do not provide their Social Security numbers; and prohibited the local phone companies from disconnecting local phone service because of an outstanding long-distance bill.

Bowen said she hopes to revive the bill.

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