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1.3.4 Tariffs

Another important source of law governing the relationship of utilities and their customers are the “tariffs” of the utility.87 Tariffs are detailed multiple-page “books” that state the charges for each class of service and the conditions that apply to the service. They are updated with each rate case decision or other PUC order. Tariffs are often available on the utility’s or the commission’s website.

The tariff’s main purpose is to provide public notice of the utility’s commission-approved rates. Laws that prohibit rate discrimination typically forbid the utility to charge any other rate. Many tariffs also often contain customer service provisions, credit and collection rules, and terms governing late fees and deposits. Some tariffs describe the areas in which service will be provided and the charges for extending service into previously unserved areas. Tariffs are treated like contracts between the utility and customer and are accorded the force of law in many states. If, however, a tariff contains illegal provisions, these provisions may be challenged.88

Some utilities place their service rules in the tariff, either as a set of “General Rules” or “Terms and Conditions” at the front of the entire set of tariffs or less frequently as specific terms of individual class tariffs. Commissions rarely examine these provisions during rate cases. Once the proposed tariff provisions have been submitted to the commission and allowed to stand without change, they have the legal effect of tariffs explicitly approved by the commission.89 Advocates should therefore consider reviewing a company’s tariffs when a rate case is filed and urge the commission to change rules that are, for example, inconsistent with state law or commission regulations or which simply embody anti-consumer policies.90

Footnotes

  • 87 {87} See Roger Colton & Robert Sable, National Consumer Law Center, A California Advocate’s Guide to Telephone Customer Service Issues § 3.2 (1991) (good discussion of tariff issues in the context of one state and one industry).

  • 88 {88} See In re Tarrant, 190 B.R. 704 (Bankr. S.D. Ga. 1995) (municipal utility rule); Granbois v. Big Horn County Elec. Coop., 986 P.2d 1097 (Mont. 1999) (REC rule unreasonable).

  • 89 {89} Case law varies from state to state on the question of whether the fact that the commission has not reviewed or commented on such provisions leaves them any more vulnerable to collateral attack in a court proceeding.

  • 90 {90} Commissions will sometimes review an entire industry’s set of terms and conditions, whether embodied in current tariffs or not, and mandate standard provisions in such areas as deposit rules, penalties for late payments, billing, and so forth. For one example of wide-ranging telecommunications consumer protection rules, see the November 2, 2010, CPUC Decision 10-10-034 in docket R.00-02-004, which is available at http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/FINAL_DECISION/125959.pdf.

    For standard terms and conditions applicable to distribution service in Massachusetts, see Mass. D.T.E. 97-65 (1997), which is available at www.env.state.ma.us/dpu/docs/electric/97-65/97-65or2.pdf.