Did you see the piece on Channel 11 last night about how AT&T overcharged the Harris County Hospital District for the past 13-years—admitted it in court--received a judgment to pay a lump sum back to the County…and the state Public Utilitiy Commission overruled the judge, and cut the penalty in half??
Who is the PUC working to protect here?
Harris County had hired Southwestern Tariff Analysts, an outside auditor, to review phone bills, and discovered AT&T had been overcharging the county for over 13 years to the tune of $487,000--all because AT&T claimed Harris County wasn’t paying on time.
Most of us have 16-days to pay our phone bills, but under The Prompt Payment Act, governmental entities like the County Hospital System up to 30-days to pay.
Unless dealing with AT&T.
With the Texas PUC looking on.
AT&T wasn’t applying the Prompt Payment Act.
Guess they didn't think "Harris County" meant "government."
The case went to court, and Administrative Law Judge Craig Bennett recommended a “full refund in one lump sum payment.” It was obvious to the Judge, and most other rational-thinking human beings that keeping the funds would be “unjust and untenable.”
You can draw your own conclusions about the accuity of the Texas Public Utility Commission, which disagreed with the judge and ordered only a partial refund. PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman denied giving any special treatment, and on camera last night, tried to defend the indefensible: letting AT&T off the hook.
Smitherman said both he and PUC staff found Harris County also at fault, for not spotting the billing errors years earlier.
Here's a rhetorical question: If a company overcharges you, but you don't catch it, are you still owed a refund? Apparently not, if the PUC is looking out for the company charging you.
The Commission cut in half the refund, resulting in a $150,000 windfall for AT&T for cheating the County. Which flies in the face of the PUC’s core mission—to protect the customer.
AT&T has paid the PUC-ordered partial refund of $338,745, saying it has “acted in good faith all along, based on its interpretation of the law.”
AT&T took advantage of the confusion over conflicting regulations, and banked the cash, and only when they got caught with their hands in the till did they cough up a refund, reduced by half, thanks to their cronies on the PUC.
The next step that needs to be taken is the removal of Barry Smitherman from the PUC, and possible replacement of all three commissioners. Clearly, they’re not clear on the mission of the Commission.