Sat | May 27, 2017

OUR doing its job fairly

Published:Saturday | May 20, 2017 | 5:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Patrick Morris, in his letter published on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, asserts that the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) is looking out more for the interests of the regulated entities than the consumers, as they are the ones who pay us regulatory fees.

We would like to clarify and submit for his consideration the facts about how the OUR operates:

1. The regulatory fees that support the operations of the OUR are paid by consumers as they are derived from bills paid by customers.

2. The OUR has a mandate to ensure efficient delivery of utility services to the customers while ensuring that service providers have the opportunity to make a reasonable return on investment. Therefore, we have to safeguard the interests of both the consumers and investors in utility companies, while ensuring that whatever decisions are made are in Jamaica's best interest.

3. The OUR, over its 20-year history, has sought to do just that. We have implemented Quality of Service Standards, as well as Guaranteed Standards, that will hold the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Company and the National Water Commission (NWC) accountable to their customers. A breach of any Guaranteed Standard will require the offending utility company to compensate customers through their next bill.

In fact, in 2016, the JPS and NWC paid out about $128 million to utility customers. Of this amount, about $121.7 million was paid out for breaches of the Guaranteed Standards, while the balance of $6.59 million was secured for utility customers through the OUR's investigation into their appeals. We are awaiting the finalisation of the Quality of Service Standards for the telecommunications sector, which will hold those companies to greater accountability to their customers.

4. The OUR's Consumer Affairs Unit is open to the members of the public who do not have to make an appointment to call or visit our officers. We are also accessible through our social-media channels, namely Facebook and Twitter, and have resolved many customer issues through these platforms.

 

INFLUENTIAL DECISIONS

 

5. Apart from reviewing applications for rate reviews from utility companies, the OUR has also been instrumental in a number of decisions that have benefited consumers. In 2012, we reduced the mobile termination rate, the rate charged to customers to terminate calls from one network to another. This resulted in a corresponding reduction in call rates charged by Digicel and FLOW to their customers. We have played a significant role in renewable energy projects and we have been instrumental in the introduction of number portability, which puts more power in the hands of telecommunications customers, as they can now switch their service providers and keep their phone numbers.

The OUR has been vocal about its lack of enforcement powers that hamper us from taking stronger action against utility companies. Nevertheless, we continue to work within the scope of our mandate. We invite Mr Morris to meet with us to learn more about what we do in the consumers' and the nation's interest. He can call us anytime.

ELIZABETH BENNETT MARSH

Public Education Specialist, OUR