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Jan 12, 2004 - 02:30 PM

Cell Out

by Doug Heller
In Arnold's Christmas stocking was a $10,000 gift from cell phone giant Cingular. This added to the quarter million in campaign contributions that the Guv has already received from the communications industry, including max-out contributions from other telecom powerhouses such as SBC and Nextel.

Four days after receiving the Cingular contribution, Arnold formally requested that California Public Utility Commissioners freeze regulatory proceedings and review all regulations issued over the past five years, in order to assess the regulations' "impact on business," in compliance with an executive order on this subject issued more than a month earlier. (Read a copy of that letter from the Governor.) Because the PUC is a constitutionally independent agency, it is not subject to gubernatorial orders, but the Gov has asked the commissioners to "honor the spirit of my executive order on a voluntary basis."

What kind of regs might Arnold's donors want terminated? The PUC is currently considering the Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights, which would expand privacy protections, improve billing accuracy and clarity and mandate fair contract terms among other reforms. Tipsters tell us there's likely collusion on the issue between Schwarzenegger and PUC President Michael Peevey, who, since coming to the Commisison from the private power industry, has made every effort to block consumer protections in the name of protecting business interests. With Arnold's request in hand, President Peevey now has another tool to take the Consumer Bill of Rights off the hook.

The rest of the PUC will hopefully take some direction from the courts where consumers scored a victory against Cell-Hell this morning. A Los Angeles judge refused Nextel's request to toss out a case brought by our organization (The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights). The case takes issue with Nextel's decision to stop itemizing bills and the company's refusal to refund all customers for four phony text messages Nextel sent and charged to all customers. Because the bills were no longer itemized, most people did not know that they were charged for the phony text messages. What's Nextel's response? Consumers can pay $2.50 per phone, per month to get a full itemized bill, go to the library and download the bill from the internet or they should keep a diary of their cell phone calls.

We'd like to see a diary of communications between Arnold and the PUC President. If the Telecom Consumer Bill of Rights is derailed, their bill to the public will be hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges, frustration and lost time.

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