On a split vote, the state Public Utilities Commission decided Thursday that California’s two main local telephone companies were providing generally good service to customers, though SBC Communications Inc. had “several important areas of weakness.”
The commission’s 3-2 vote appears to discount consumer concerns that the method the PUC uses to help set retail phone prices systematically decreases the quality of consumer service.
The vote is key because it sets up a later decision on whether the so-called new regulatory framework is adequate or needs to be altered in some way.
The PUC majority found that Verizon Communications Inc. delivered very good service to both businesses and consumers. SBC was found to offer generally good service, but the majority faulted the company for responding too slowly to residential customers when they had outages, billing questions or other problems.
Timothy K. McCallion, president of Verizon California, said the decision was “gratifying.”
“We’re very pleased the commission recognized the efforts of our employees,” he said.
SBC also said it was pleased. “We have had far fewer incidences of service trouble or outages compared to national standards, despite the challenges of our state’s high incidences of natural disasters,” spokesman John Britton said.
Consumer groups berated the decision, saying it probably meant poor customer service would continue.
“The commission found a way to analyze the data that ignored consumers’ actual experiences and their complaints,” said Bob Finkelstein, an attorney for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group. “Is it possible the commission’s own phone service is so bad that they can’t hear consumers complaining?”
The PUC vote overrode a proposed decision from an administrative law judge who found that customer service at SBC and Verizon had been spotty at best since the new regulatory framework took effect a dozen years ago.