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In Capacity As Individual Customer, Individual Who Is Employed By Pa. Utility Alleges Continued Deceptive Behavior By Retail Supplier, Requests PUC Hold Pending Settlement In Abeyance For Further Investigation Of Supplier

December 10, 2021

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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An individual named Michael Zimmerman filed public comments, solely on Zimmerman's own behalf as an electric customer in Pennsylvania, with the Pennsylvania PUC alleging that an apparent agent for Discount Power, Inc. (DPI) engaged in deceptive behavior, as Zimmerman asked that a pending settlement agreement between Discount Power and the PUC's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement be held in abeyance pending further investigation of DPI.

Zimmerman is employed as Senior Regulatory Counsel at Duquesne Light Company; however, Zimmerman's comments were filed solely on Zimmerman's own personal behalf as a customer. Duquesne Light had no involvement with the comments filed by Zimmerman. Duquesne Light has not intervened in, and has not in any way commented on, the settlement or respective PUC proceeding.

Zimmerman provided the following statement to

"I am employed as Senior Regulatory Counsel at Duquesne Light Company. My comments in this proceeding were filed solely on my own personal behalf as a customer. Duquesne Light had no involvement with these comments."

--- Statement from Michael Zimmerman

The settlement would resolve an investigation into alleged instances of deceptive and misleading telemarketing, alleged unauthorized switches, and other alleged violations by Discount Power.

Among other things, Discount Power, Inc. would pay $42,000 under the settlement

The alleged behavior is specifically detailed in our prior story linked here

The PUC issued the settlement for public comment prior to a final vote on the settlement.

In the public comments filed with the PUC, Zimmerman alleged, "I respectfully urge the Commission to hold the Proposed Settlement in abeyance pending further investigation of DPI. Further investigation is warranted because DPI may be continuing to engage in the same types of deceptive and misleading conduct that precipitated I&E’s investigation and the Proposed Settlement."

In the comments filed with the PUC, Zimmerman alleged, "By way of background: I am a residential customer of Duquesne Light Company. On December 6, 2021, I received a telemarketing call, apparently from DPI, which closely resembled the deceptive telemarketing calls described in the Proposed Settlement at 16-20."

For example, Zimmerman alleged the following:

• "The call originated from a 'spoofed' number, wherein the caller ID was manipulated to appear as though the call originated from Western Pennsylvania. "

• "The call began with a prerecorded message that did not identify the caller, and stated that I was eligible to receive a $50 gift card if I pressed one. "

• "The telemarketing agent to whom I was transferred after pressing one ('Agent') failed to identify who he was calling on behalf of until the twelfth minute of the call. "

• "Agent materially misrepresented my electric rates and mischaracterized his offered product. Agent stated that he would provide a rate of 14.99 cents per kWh for 12 months, which he stated represented a 30% discount on my electric bill. Agent advised I was paying 'almost 17.99 cents' per kWh of electric supply. In fact, my effective supply rate is between 7 and 8 cents per kWh.

• "Agent coached me to answer 'yes' on all questions from the third-party verifier."

"This call constitutes reason to believe that DPI may be continuing the same sorts of misconduct that the Proposed Settlement is ostensibly intended to deter. It is also reasonable to suspect that the above-described call to me was not an isolated incident -- nothing about the call suggested that I was exclusively targeted -- but may be a part of a larger telemarketing campaign intended to ensnare multiple customers in the Commonwealth. Further investigation is therefore warranted to determine the nature and extent of such misconduct," Zimmerman alleged

"If substantiated, ongoing deceptive telemarketing by DPI would bear on several of the applicable factors at 52 Pa. Code § 69.1201 by which the Commission evaluates settlements. Relevant factors include (but are not necessarily limited to) the seriousness of DPI’s conduct (§ 69.1201(c)(1)), DPI’s efforts to prevent similar misconduct (§ 69.1201(c)(4)), DPI’s compliance history (§ 69.1201(c)(6)), the extent of DPI’s cooperation with the Commission’s investigation (§ 69.1201(c)(7)), and whether the settlement is appropriate amount necessary to deter future violations (§ 69.1201(c)(8)). Therefore, pending further investigation, it may be appropriate for the Commission to reexamine the proposed civil penalty or take additional enforcement action," Zimmerman alleged

Zimmerman's comments were filed on December 9, one day out of time given a December 8 public comment deadline.

"However, I respectfully request that the Commission accept these Comments out-of-time, because as discussed [above], the event spurring these Comments occurred on December 6, 2021," Zimmerman alleged

Docket No. M-2021-3022658

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