Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Consumer Counsel Mary Healey said today they will fight to reverse a draft Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) decision letting AT&T off the hook for failing since 2001 to meet minimum state requirements for phone repair. Communications Workers of America Local 1298 President Bill Henderson joined Blumenthal and Healey in condemning the decision and calling for its reversal.The DPUC requires AT&T to fix 90 percent of out-of-service phones within 24 hours, a standard that the company has failed since 2001 to meet. Blumenthal and Henderson, who both blames repeated layoffs for the company’s failure to meet the standard, called on the DPUC to enforce the standard and fine the company up to millions of dollars.
In a draft decision, the DPUC agreed that AT&T has failed to meet its requirements, but concluded that the standards are outmoded and declined to enforce them or impose a significant fine.
Blumenthal said, “This decision is a barely slap on the wrist to AT&T — more like a pat on the head — and a stinging whack at consumers. I will fight this deeply disappointing draft decision, which gives AT&T a pass on compliance with state service standards. I will file strong exceptions seeking reconsideration and reversal.
“The DPUC agreed with my office that AT&T has failed since 2001 to meet the most important service standard — requiring timely repair of nonworking phones — but then inexplicably and illogically let the company off the hook with barely a rebuke. Faced with massive failure to follow its rules, the DPUC’s reaction appears to be stunning indifference. The penalty is in name only.
“AT&T’s failure to follow the rules — requiring that 90 percent of phones of out-of-service phones be fixed within 24 hours — endangers the public, especially seniors and handicapped dependent on landlines for necessities and emergencies. Live phone lines are vital lifelines that AT&T is failing to fix, leaving our most vulnerable citizens isolated and endangered.
“This failure to meet state repair standards is directly attributable to AT&T’s repeated layoffs — 1,300 jobs over recent years — starving the company of workers needed to maintain its system. DPUC’s draft decision unjustly rewards AT&T’s pernicious policy of sacrificing service for profits.
“I will fight to undo this tentative decision and compel the company to meet its service obligations, as well as impose serious and significant fines for its years long flouting of DPUC rules,” Blumenthal added.
Healey said, “The combination of the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) representing ratepayers, the Attorney General representing all citizens of this state, and the CWA representing the heart and soul of AT&T should have had the desired effect: to prompt the DPUC to act pursuant to its statutory authority and obligation to force AT&T to comply with the express standards of performance that have been on the books for a decade or more. AT&T has failed to meet the most basic standard of customer service, keeping people’s phones operating, for over 8 years now. AT&T’s failure to meet that standard is completely unacceptable, and the DPUC’s failure to enforce that standard for 8 years is equally unacceptable. For the DPUC to now indicate that it is leaning toward accepting AT&T’s claim that it shouldn’t be penalized because that standard is too high is indefensible under law.
“The OCC petitioned the DPUC to open this docket nearly a year ago out of frustration and anger over the lack of attention to the failure of the largest utility in Connecticut, indeed one of the largest corporations in the world, to fix ratepayer’s phones with 24 hours. The draft decision just issued by the DPUC similarly fails the interests of ratepayers and public policy in general.
“The standard requiring customers’ phones to be fixed within 24 hours is not too high. AT&T’s performance is too poor. The DPUC has an obligation to the people of this state to assure ratepayers that their hard-earned dollars do not merely fill the coffers of AT&T, but that the service quality they expect is delivered, fairly and consistently,” Healey added.
Henderson said, “The DPUC’s recent decision borders on scandalous and absurd. AT&T has failed to meet the service requirements for the state of Connecticut for 90 consecutive months and at the same time has reduced its workforce by over 1,300 jobs. Connecticut jobs have been and are being shipped out of state to the Philippines, Canada, Ohio, Texas and Tennessee. You can’t provide good service from the Philippines to our customers in Connecticut. It’s time for the DPUC to step up and take charge and make AT&T provide good service to the people of Connecticut.”
Healey thanked the craftspeople of the Communications Workers of America for standing with us in fighting back against the poor service quality provided by AT&T. The craftspeople clearly take pride in their work and are of course ready to provide customer satisfaction at the highest standard possible. Additionally, we want to thank the attorney general for lending his eloquence and authority to this battle from the start.