STAFF CONTACT :
The Business Council opposes this legislation that would impose a moratorium on utility termination of services during periods of pandemics and/or state of emergencies.
This bill, while well intentioned, goes much further than required to maintain utility services. It should be noted that most providers targeted by this bill have already taken steps to ensure connectivity, access, and special programs throughout the pandemic to protect and serve New York State customers.
First, it should be noted that some of the entities targeted by this change in law have already taken the “Keep America Connected Pledge” promoted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and have publicly promised their support to ensure that individuals’ access to communication networks is not impaired in anyway due to the pandemic and resultant state and national emergencies. Additionally New York State’s regulated energy utility community have already taken significant steps to provide relief to their consumers, without legislation directing them to do so, and will continue providing high-quality, reliable and responsive service during this emergency. Put simply, the market is working. We implore the legislature and the administration to allow it to continue doing so.
Second, this change in state law is not the proper approach concerning the regulation and operations of these types of enterprises. Our nation and our state currently have a structure and system in place for the guidance, regulation, and oversight of these providers whether it be the Public Service Commission, the FCC, or relevant government oversight. This type of law overturns the free markets and threatens our longtime system of checks and balances as found in regulatory authorities. Regulatory systems are designed to solicit input from the industry and consumer advocates to carefully weigh evidence and studies prior to making wholesale changes to operating procedures and rates. Instead, this legislative route simply and arbitrarily makes wholesale changes to the consumer-provider relationship outside of the customary and accepted regulatory system thus precluding input from the industry, and without study.
Regarding the substance of the bill, the language pertaining to past due balances is not specific to this pandemic or state emergencies. Likewise, the language used for 48 hour mandated restoration of service is also not specifically pegged to the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither of these provisions require the showing of financial hardship by the customer. The law merely states that during the pandemic there can be no terminations and restorations must take place with 48 hours. In both cases there could be an untold number of instances of overdue bills, credit issues, or problems that have been months - if not years - in the making and have no nexus to COVID-19 but, would now be treated as if they are directly attributable to this current state emergency.
The bill also states that in the 180-day period following the cessation of the state emergency, services can likewise not be interrupted due to any financial impact suffered under the emergency. In a similar vein, under this legislation, any such financial obligations for service would now be subject to negotiation between the consumer and the provider. Since certain entities covered by this law are not ”public utilities" they do not rate base for loses and thus would be subject to significant costs for services provided under this legislation not subject to recoup even if justified.
For these reasons, The Business Council opposes the passage of this legislation.