Consumer Advocate Asks PUC To Ban Robocalls, As Part Of New Rulemaking
Proposes Rate Cap On Variable Rates
Proposes Ban On Gift Cards, Similar Inducements For Enrollments
Proposes That "All" Third-Party & Independent Sales Agents Be Required To Register With PUC
Would Ban Auto-Renewals
Proposes Ban On Door-to-Door Sales
October 13, 2021 Email This Story Copyright 2010-21 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
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The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel has filed, in comments to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, a broad proposal for a series of retail energy market rule changes
OCC's comments were made in a previously reported proceeding addressing Ohio Adm.Code Chapters 4901:1- 21, 4901:1-23, 4901:1-24, 4901:1-27, 4901:1-28, 4901:1-29, 4901:1-30, 4901:1-31, 4901:1-32, 4901:1-33, and 4901:1-34. The rules address, among other things, marketing and solicitation, disclosures, customer enrollment and consent, minimum service standards, supplier licensing, and billing. PUCO Staff have not proposed any major changes to the rules (See story her)
OCC's proposals discussed below would apply to both electricity and natural gas
OCC proposed that the rule prohibit robocalls for retail energy
"The rules should be amended to include as an 'unfair marketing
practice' the use of 'robo-calling' technology or automated messages to entice consumers to
speak with the marketer ... Robo-calling should be expressly prohibited by the PUCO in
the marketing and solicitation of energy services to consumers," OCC said
OCC specifically proposed to prohibit, "Telephone solicitations that utilize 'robo-calling' technology or automated
messages to entice consumers to speak with the [retail] provider."
OCC proposed that PUCO prohibit retail suppliers from offering cash or gift cards to entice new enrollments
OCC said that retail suppliers should be prohibited from, "Offering cash cards, gift cards, or rewards points as an incentive for new
In proposed rule language, OCC specifically proposed that PUCO prohibit, "Enticing customers to enroll in service by offering a short-term fixed rate contract
that automatically renews to a variable rate contract."
OCC proposed that PUCO ban "short-term" fixed rates that auto-renew to a variable rate
Separately, OCC further proposed that residential contract renewals should only be allowed with
affirmative consent from the customer, with a ban on auto-renewals
"The PUCO should amend these rules to do away with automatic contract
renewals, excluding month to month contracts," OCC said, with OCC proposing that there shall be no early termination fees for month to month contracts
"Residential contracts shall
not contain automatic renewal clauses unless the contract is on a month to
month basis with no early termination fees," OCC proposed
OCC proposes that residential contracts shall not contain an early termination fee in excess of $25.
OCC proposed that PUCO adopt in the rule its prior "fixed means fixed" order and also the associated product labels. While PUCO's fixed means fixed order stands, it allows regulatory out clauses for the supplier to cease service. Furthermore, PUCO stayed an order which would have required the use of defined product labels (fixed, variable, introductory); see story here for more details
OCC's language would provide that, "Contracts labeled as 'fixed' shall not contain language or clauses
that permit the pass through of additional charges to the customer in excess of
the identified fixed rate."
OCC proposed increased oversight of third-party marketing vendors and agents.
Among other things, OCC proposed that, "All third-party and independent sales agents shall register with the PUCO and include
the names of management personnel, names of sales agents, office address and phone
OCC would require that, "[retail] providers shall suspend the use of third-party and independent sales agents
that fail to comply with Ohio law and PUCO’s rules in soliciting and marketing to
OCC proposed that, "Upon suspension of a third-party and independent sales agents, all enrollments that
were performed by the third-party shall be subject to a compliance audit paid for by
the [retail] provider to verify that the enrollment is in full compliance with the rules."
OCC proposed that retail providers shall be prohibited from conducting direct solicitations through door-to-door
marketing and enrollment
OCC proposed that, for variable rate contracts, "The variable rate shall not exceed 2.25 times the utility’s standard
offer." (OCC proposes the same multiple as a rate cap for both electricity and gas)
For variable rates, OCC proposed that suppliers be required, in marketing materials and offers, to express the rate, "in a manner that will enable the customer to compare
the variable rate offered against other offers available."
For offers that include any form of an introductory rate, OCC proposed that suppliers be required to provide in marketing materials and offers, "a clear identification of
the initial rate that will be charged, the time period that the introductory rate will
be charged, the rate that will be charged once the introductory period is over, and
the time period that the post-introductory rate will be in effect."
OCC proposed that
PUCO should require utilities to provide shadow billing, or alternatively,
marketers should be required to develop a 'do not call' list for consumers
who choose not to be solicited.