NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE UTILITY CONSUMER ADVOCATES
R E S O L U T I O N
Adopting NASUCA/NARUC Enforcement Actions Database Joint Working Agreement
WHEREAS, the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) is a national association of public advocate offices whose members are designated by laws of their respective states to represent the interests of utility consumers before state and federal regulators and in the courts; and
WHEREAS, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) is a national association composed of governmental agencies of the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers; and
WHEREAS, recognizing the value of a common, comprehensive, and readily available source of information about companies that have been the subject of complaints, proceedings, judgments and settlements for consumer protection violations in one or more states, NASUCA adopted Resolution No. 1999-10, “In Support of Developing a Database Concerning Providers of Utility Services and Coordination Among the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and Other Agencies; and
WHEREAS, Resolution No. 1999-10 established an informal joint working group, consisting of representatives from NASUCA and NARUC and other federal, state and private agencies as appropriate opportunities may arise. The mission of the joint working group is to establish suggested guidelines for future resolutions on how the organizations can coordinate their activities and share information to maintain the aforementioned database; and
WHEREAS, the joint working group has developed a “Joint Working Agreement” for the “NASUCA/NARUC Enforcement Actions Database,” consisting of guidelines addressing the following: (1) the purpose of the database; (2) financing the database; (3) access to the database; (4) delineating responsibility for collecting the information to update the database; (5) the frequency with which the database should be updated; (6) the types of information to be included in the database, which will be limited to “formal actions” (i.e., part of a public record); and (7) the commencement date for data to be entered;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) hereby adopts the “NASUCA/NARUC Enforcement Actions Database Joint Working Agreement,” attached hereto;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NASUCA authorizes its Executive Committee to develop specific positions and to take appropriate actions consistent with the terms of this resolution. The Executive Committee shall advise the membership of any proposed action prior to taking action if possible. In any event, the Executive Committee shall notify the membership of any action taken pursuant to this resolution.
APPROVED BY NASUCA: Submitted by:
Consumer Protection Committee
June 7, 2000
NASUCA/NARUC Enforcement Actions Database
Joint Working Agreement
What is the purpose of the database?
The purpose of the joint database is to create a common, comprehensive, and readily available source of information about companies providing utility, telecommunications, energy and related services that have been the subject of official investigations, judgments or other actions for consumer protection violations.
As a result of the introduction of competition into the gas, electricity and local telecommunications markets, both NARUC and NASUCA members are experiencing increasing instances of slamming, cramming, and other consumer abuses in which the same perpetrators are operating in multiple states and under multiple business names. In this restructured utility environment, consumers are much more vulnerable to scams and are more likely to be subject to unfair, deceptive, unconscionable, fraudulent, or anti-competitive practices in the marketplace. This database will help both organizations’ members identify those companies and their principals which are engaging in this behavior and will assist both advocates and commissions in devising strategies to protect consumers.
How will the database be financed?
The database was created using the Internet-based service, Flashbase. This service offers us the ability to create and manage online database-backed forms via the web. Flashbase provides two different versions of the service – the Basic Service (this is free), and the Premier Service (the current cost is $24.95/month total). Currently, we are using the basic service. However, the benefits of the Premier Service include being free of on-screen advertising and allowing us to collect up to 100,000 responses (vs. 1,000 responses with the Basic Service).
NASUCA and NARUC will split the cost of financing the database ($12.48 per organization per month).
3. Who will have access to the database?
(A) Viewing the database on the Internet requires a password. Any member of either organization will be able to view the database to obtain information. For the present time, access should be limited to representatives of the two participating organizations.
(B) Inputting information into the database requires a separate password. For purposes of consistency, only one person from each organization should have access to update the database. A NASUCA member (Ohio) has volunteered the human resources for all data entry through the Year 2000. The organizations need to identify human resources for splitting the task of data entry after that time.
4. Who is responsible for collecting the information to update the database?
Each state should designate either a NASUCA or a NARUC representative to be responsible for collecting information regarding enforcement activities in that state. At this time, 17 NASUCA members and 11 NARUC members have designated contacts, and an additional 8 NARUC members have indicated willingness to participate. These responses cover 29 states, with both NARUC and NASUCA agreeing to participate in 7 states.
In states where both organizations have identified contacts or have agreed to participate, the two (or three, if and when attorney generals become involved with the project at a future time) will negotiate which agency will serve as the designated contact and what coordination is needed within the state. Once this has been determined, the office responsible for entering data updates into the system will be so informed.
If the NARUC representative is responsible, the information should be placed in the appropriate format and forwarded to NARUC’s executive office for processing. If the NASUCA representative is responsible, he or she will forward the information to the NASUCA designee (e.g., NASUCA’s Washington office) to update the database.
States will inform the office handling data entry at such time as the state contact person changes.
How frequently should the database be updated?
A goal of this effort is to have regular updating of the database by every state. State representatives may send data updates at any time when developments in cases necessitate updating. Reminders will be sent to designated state contacts every three months on the following staggered schedule:
for 1/3 of the states: Jan. Apr. July Oct.
for 1/3 of the states: Feb. May Aug. Nov.
for 1/3 of the states: Mar. June Sept. Dec.
The hope is that this staggered schedule will alleviate the burden on the central offices inputting the data, and perhaps be a more realistic goal for individual states.
What type of information will be included?
There are two broad guiding principles for what information will be included in the joint database:
a. The focus of the database is on violations of law, rule or other binding policy that have an impact on consumers of utility, telecommunications, energy and related services.
b. Information will be limited to formal actions in the public record.
A formal action is a complaint, request for action or relief, or investigation opened by a commission, attorney general or other enforcement agency regarding a business entity, including its officers, managers, and employees, that has been filed with and docketed by (although not necessarily concluded) a federal, state or local agency or court. Examples of formal actions include: show cause proceedings; formal investigations; petitions for emergency or injunctive relief; notice of forfeiture or other issuance of a fine.
Consistent with these guidelines, the following are examples of matters that would be recorded in the database: slamming; cramming; phone sharks; violations of consumer protection rules; false or misleading advertising; credit and collections rule/law violations; rate misquotation; telemarketing violations. These are intended as examples only and are not comprehensive.
Some proceedings that would not be included: rate investigations (unless there is a particular consumer dimension that warrants an exception); cases involving regulatory matters, such as failure to file required reports; generic policy making dockets such as promulgation of service quality standards. States which have the authority to issue notices of forfeiture or otherwise impose fines in which a company has the choice to pay up or go to hearing should also include these proceedings to the extent they are on the public record.
Each entry will consist of the following elements:
Violation(s) (proved or alleged depending upon case status)
Jurisdiction (e.g., state)
Agencies involved (public counsel, commission, attorney general, etc.)
Reporting agency (i.e., who has forwarded information to the database)
Status of case (i.e., pending, final)
Action taken (e.g., none, license revoked, penalties, etc.)
Name of company and principals
Contact, address and phone of the company
Other names company has gone by (a/k/a or d/b/a)
Type of service (telecom, gas, electric, cable, etc.)
Whether the case is a new or updated entry in the database
What is the commencement date for data to be entered?
Upon implementation of the joint project, states will be asked to submit data back to the beginning of calendar 1998, or earlier where appropriate