OPC’s primary responsibility is to protect the interests of residential users of regulated utility services and energy supply services. We advocate for these consumers in proceedings that affect the cost, reliability, quality of service and terms of service. The terms of service include the notion of consumer protection.
When we use the term “consumer protection,” we typically are referring to the rules and procedures for receiving and maintaining services, and for the denial or termination of the service.
In the case of fully regulated utility services (gas, electric, local telecommunications, private water), the MD Public Service Commission has full regulatory authority over the utilities, and has the ability to establish “rules of the road,” for utilities to follow in their relationship with customers, as well as customer responsibilities. The general rules for service applications, credit and service deposits, denial of service, service maintenance, service terminations, restrictions on terminations, and protections for low-income and vulnerable customers are set out in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) Title 20. In addition, the MD PSC must approve each utility’s tariff, which sets out the specific terms of service for customers of the utility. The tariffs must be consistent with Maryland law and the MD PSC regulations.
The MD PSC also is the agency that issues licenses to gas and electric suppliers and oversees the relationship between the regulated utilities and the suppliers. In addition, the MD PSC establishes and enforces the consumer protection rules that apply to the supplier-customer relationship, including marketing, solicitation and contract terms. OPC was instrumental in the adoption of consumer protection requirements for energy suppliers by the General Assembly and the MD PSC.
Energy suppliers are not monopolies, but are competitive businesses. Therefore, they are subject to Maryland’s broad consumer protection laws which are intended to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. The Consumer Protection Division of the Office of Attorney General has shared responsibility with the MD PSC for protecting consumers who purchase retail energy supply services from competitive companies.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the federal agency with oversight responsibility for interstate telephone calls, wireless services, VOIP and broadband services, and may establish rules to protect consumers of those services.
OPC is a strong advocate for residential consumer protections in the MD PSC’s proceedings to consider regulations, tariff applications and utility policies and procedures affecting consumers. Through NASUCA, an association of utility consumer advocates, OPC also is able to maintain a vital voice on behalf of consumers in FCC proceedings.