Bryan Cohen Dec. 14, 2012, 8:02pm

BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a report Thursday based on her office's review of the standards used to measure the service quality of electric and gas companies.

Coakley's office began the review of service quality standards this summer after expressing concern for rising capital expenditures and ratepayer costs, in addition to allegedly inadequate responses to Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm.

The report, "Recommendations for Strengthening the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities' Service Quality Standards," offers a set of improved and alternative methods for the Department of Public Utilities to measure service quality. Coakley's office wants the DPU to use the report to improve the annual performance and system maintenance of utility companies to improve service and prevent power outages.

"At a time when we have seen numerous outages, we need to ensure that utilities are doing all they can to maintain proper service for customers," Coakley said. "Utilities routinely receive rate increases to improve their infrastructure and service quality, and it's our job to ensure that customers are getting the benefits they're paying for."

The report recommends the elimination of cross-category offsets or ratings for positive service that can misrepresent underperformance in other categories, increasing service benchmarks by a set percentage each year to prevent system deterioration and promote benefits for ratepayers from company investments, adopting new penalties that measure the percentage of customers experiencing multiple or long interruptions, changing customer satisfaction surveys to a penalty-eligible system for companies, and establishing multiple new reporting metrics to increase transparency in connection to service quality.

The DPU established the current service quality standards in 2001. Utility companies file an annual report to disclose their performance under the three categories of customer satisfaction, safety and reliability, and service and billing. The companies requested and received incentive payments for meeting the quality standards.

The DPU opened its own inquiry into the service quality guidelines on Tuesday and plans to take Coakley's report and recommendations into consideration.

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