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Pennsylvania PUC Warns Retail Suppliers On Using Marketing Terms Such As "Rate Discount", "Utility Rate Increase"

Citing Recent Issues, PUC Highlights Areas For Concern, Urge All Suppliers To Review For Compliance

April 3, 2019

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Copyright 2010-19
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The Pennsylvania PUC issued a Secretarial Letter to retail electric suppliers providing, "guidance and reminders on what is expected of suppliers when marketing in general and in relation to specific marketing practices that have recently come to the attention of the PUC’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight (OCMO) and Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS)."

"Failure of a Supplier, or its agents, contractors, vendors, employees or representatives to comply with PUC regulations or orders can result in the imposition of fines and penalties including the suspension or revocation of a Supplier’s license. In addition, we want to remind Suppliers that the Commission has zero tolerance for marketing practices that result in unauthorized switching of customers, i.e. 'slamming,'" the PUC said

The PUC said in the letter, "We note that sales and marketing are broadly defined at 52 Pa. Code § 111.2 as the 'extension of an offer to provide services or products communicated orally, electronically or in writing to a customer' and accordingly advise Suppliers to comply with all the Chapter 111 regulations when contacting residential customers, regardless of the marketing method, venue or technology utilized. Further, 52 Pa. Code § 111.1 notes that when these standards and practices do not address a specific situation or problem, suppliers are expected to 'exercise good judgment and use reasonable care in interacting with customers and members of the public,'" [emphasis omitted]

"[T]he Commission reminds all Suppliers that when contacting a potential customer, regardless of the method or technology utilized, it is imperative that the supplier identify themselves immediately and that they accurately and completely state the purpose of the contact. Failure to do so can easily lead to customer confusion and misunderstanding – leading to a potential violation of the prohibitions in 52 Pa. Code § 111.12(d), against misleading, false or deceptive conduct or representations. Again, the PUC emphasizes that these standards and prohibitions apply to all sales and marketing campaigns, efforts or practices, regardless of medium or technology used by a Supplier, whenever a Supplier or its agent contacts a residential customer in this Commonwealth," the PUC said

Regarding telesales the PUC said, "An agent who contacts customers by telephone shall, after greeting the customer, immediately identify himself by name, identify the supplier the agent represents and the reason for the telephone call. The agent shall state that he is not working for and is independent of the local distribution company or another supplier. The agent may not say or suggest to a customer that a utility customer is required to choose a competitive energy supplier." [emphasis omitted]

"The PUC stresses that telemarketing agents are to immediately identify themselves upon contacting a potential customer; identify the supplier they are representing; and the reason for the telephone call. We advise Suppliers that the 'reason for the telephone call' is to be specific and to avoid vague and potentially misleading statements (i.e. 'about an urgent matter concerning your generation service', 'about your utility bill', 'about your discount /refund /rebate /bonus' etc.). The PUC advises that these rules and expectations apply to all phone contacts to a potential customer’s household, regardless of whether it is a live agent or recorded voice (i.e. 'robocalls') and regardless a whether it is addressed to a utility customer or any member of the household or whether it involves only leaving a voice mail message," the PUC said [emphasis omitted]

"The PUC further reminds Suppliers that the state and federal 'Do Not Call' list laws and regulations apply to all Suppliers and shield all customers on the list – regardless of whether that customer appears on the distribution utility’s Eligible Customer List (ECL). (We note that customer phone numbers are not included on the ECL)," the PUC said

In written or electronic communications, the PUC cautioned suppliers to avoid practices like the following:

• Failing to prominently identify the Supplier that sent the communication.

• Using references to the distribution utility improperly, including using the utility name in a manner that could suggest that the communication is from or sent on behalf of the utility.

• Failing to properly identify the purpose of the communication. "We further advise against statements like 'rate discount / refund / rebate notice', 'utility rate increase notice,' etc., without a more complete explanation of the purpose of the solicitation," the PUC said

"We urge all Suppliers to immediately perform a comprehensive review of their current and planned residential sales and marketing efforts to ensure that the standards discussed in this Secretarial Letter are complied with. A competitive energy market where suppliers provide accurate and complete information to potential customers will not only assist those customers in making informed energy choices, but will benefit the market in its entirety by improving the shopping experience for everyone," the PUC said.

The PUC also reminded suppliers that while a supplier, "is free to engage agents, vendors and contractors to perform sales, marketing and other work on its behalf, the PUC will hold the licensed Supplier responsible for the actions of those agents, vendors and contractors."

The PUC also highlighted various regulations for door-to-door sales and verifications

Further issues the PUC wished to highlight for supplies, as well as cites to the specific regulations, can be found here in the PUC's Secretarial Letter

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