Phone firm irks PSC

Verizon's reply on increase in complaints called `unresponsive'

September 05, 2007|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun reporter

CLARIFICATION

An article in the Business section yesterday about Verizon facing customer service complaints did not make clear that the telephone company provided some documents to the Maryland Public Service Commission on Aug. 6 as requested. Verizon filed for an extension to complete the request on Aug. 22, though the PSC has since determined that the effort was inadequate and asked for more data.

The Maryland Public Service Commission has given Verizon Maryland Inc. until the end of the week to fully answer for hundreds of complaints about customer service, or potentially face thousands of dollars in civil penalties.

A letter sent to the phone company's attorney Friday said replies to previous requests for information last month were "incomplete and generally unresponsive."

It's the latest in a string of demands the PSC has made of the phone company in response to hundreds of complaints lodged by consumers that "chronicle serious and frustrating difficulties in scheduling repair appointments and describe failures on the part of Verizon (or perhaps its contractors) to appear as promised," according to the original PSC order asking for data.

"We believe our [earlier] filing gave the commission what it asked for in the format it asked for. ... Apparently that's not the case," Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said in an e-mail.

"So, we're working with the commission to determine what information the commission wants so the commission has what it needs," Arnette said.

The PSC held a hearing last month asking Verizon to account for a sharp increase in customer complaints during the first half of this year.

More than 300 objections were lodged against the company by late July - twice as many as were filed during the comparable period last year - and at least another 150 have come in since then, outlining missed appointments and shoddy service.

Rob Penfield, who sent a complaint about Verizon to the PSC last week, said it took three weeks to restore phone service to his home in Phoenix after his line began acting up in early July.

Penfield said he made a service request online, and left two messages that were ignored.

After reaching a Verizon representative, the first two service appointments that Penfield scheduled were missed, the third was unproductive, the fourth was missed and the fifth successful.

"I honestly believe that Verizon didn't give a damn about me," Penfield said.

In an e-mail message, Arnette said the company "cares about its customers. They are the lifeline of our business." She added that she will have someone "check into Mr. Penfield's situation."

Arnette said the company is also "gathering additional data" to present to the commission this week.

If the company's response is again deemed insufficient, the commission could determine that Verizon has violated its order and levy fines of up to $2,500 per violation.

"We can impose on a per violation basis, and you could conclude that there were a substantial number of violations, although we have not yet concluded that," PSC Chairman Steven B. Larsen said.

He declined to say what Verizon would need to provide to meet the PSC's request, saying only that the commission gave the company a "specific list of questions in the original order and they didn't provide documents that answered the questions that we asked."

The original order, dated Aug. 3, gave Verizon three days to provide copies of certain service policies, documents outlining the company's response to service calls, and a list of financial and personnel resources devoted to consumer service requests.

Verizon missed that deadline, but got an extension until Aug. 22 and submitted documents that day.

The company has also handed over additional information since then, Arnette said.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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