Bluemnthal blasts DPUC decsion about under-billing mistake

Drew Smith Sep. 24, 2008, 1:00pm

Richard Blumenthal (D)

HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) -- Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday criticized a Department of Public Utility Control decision regarding the under billing of thousands of ratepayers.

The state regulatory agency announced that Connecticut Natural Gas Co. would be forced to donate $150,000 to fuel assistance programs and retrain its customer service representatives after the company attempted to correct the under-billing mistake by charging customers hundreds of dollars extra on their monthly bills.

"I am deeply disappointed by the DPUC's failure to impose sizable, significant penalties on CNG for breaking state billing laws. DPUC should have severely fined CNG instead of slapping its wrist," Blumenthal said in a statement.

The investigation found that CNG meter readers fabricated readings in January and February 2008. Those employees have since been fired.

The decision stated that CNG "failed to adequately monitor its meter reading system, failed to advise top management and the Department of the potential meter reading problem in a timely manner, continued to bill the affected customers and made payment arrangements which in some instances did not comply with state law."

Anne George, lead commissioner for the investigation, said the financial penalty levied against the utility company will send a message that the agency won't tolerate such practices.

"The Company did not handle this matter appropriately once it became aware of the faulty meter readings. The suggested donation to Operation Fuel represents a large sum of money and will serve as notice to CNG and other utilities that failures such as these will not be tolerated by the DPUC," George said.

Blumenthal however, feels the punishment didn't fit the crime.

"The cost to the laughable, far too small to deter similarly severe violations of law," he said. "The DPUC should have made CNG compensate the 3,400 consumers who received these bogus bills, forgiving the entire $1.4 million under billed and imposing up to $2 million in civil penalties."

The billings problems came to light after complaints were made to The Hartford Courant and a subsequent Petition from the Office of Consumer Counsel was sent to the DPUC.

Blumenthal said his office will review the decision and consider options for further action.

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