Smart meters. A four letter word in some circles, these devices have caused uproar for a multitude of reasons. From higher bills to health effects, privacy concerns and installation heart aches, some SDG&E customers are outraged by the new meters. While I understand those concerns, my biggest concern and frustration is that SDG&E customers is can’t independently compare their old electromechanical meter to their new smart meter. Sure, they can rely on SDG&E’s reports and studies that show that the new smart meters are accurate. But when SDG&E customers see a spike in their bill and the only answer from SDG&E is that the new meter is more accurate than the old meter and the bill is correct, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
The reason why consumers can’t request a test of their old meter? Because the meters are gone. Kaput. No longer. Finito. SDG&E says it recycles the meters. Since recycling is a good thing, one would think that recycling meters is good as well. But a hard-hitting journalistic style expose (well not really, more of a Google search than anything) got to the bottom of this story and located some of the meters SDG&E claims were recycled. And just where did these meters go? To the last place anyone would expect to look: a children’s after school art program. Dun dun dun!
It seems that these children are co-conspirators in the act of concealing the electromechanical meters, hiding the immediately recognizable analog meters with diabolical disguises. Some children chose frogs and snowmen to adorn the meters, reminiscent of the snowman plague in the days of yore. SDG&E must have thought this was the perfect place to hide all the old meters, since no one would think to question a seemingly innocent children’s art program. Now, I’m guessing that there must be other art program involved, because SDG&E is replacing well over one million meters. Little Bobby and Jane would probably be happy to decorate one meter, but a couple thousand meters might be a bit overkill.
In all seriousness, Kids Korps USA’s SmART Project seems to be a great program that helps children and it is wonderful that SDG&E is helping out the community. You can check out pictures of the children’s artwork here. The only question I have now is when can we get these designer meters installed in our homes?
These two just can’t stay away from each other: Deutsche Telekom is again talking of hooking up Sprint and T-Mobile. Jeez guys, get a room.
Deutsche Telekom purchased T-Mobile back in 2009 and their wireless contracts haven't fared well in the last year. Both Sprint and T-Mobile have both hemorrhaged massive amounts of customers to the dual giants of AT&T and Verizon. A merger has been talked about for years, but the fact that the two providers use different network technologies was a huge hurdle. Now that Sprint is upgrading their network equipment, the merger is more feasible. The idea is for Deutsche Telekom to sell it's wireless operations to Sprint and in return would retain partial ownership of the merged companies.
I have no doubt that the merge would create a monolithic competitor for AT&T and Verizon, but is that really good for the consumer? Proponents argue that it would allow the two companies to pool their resources to provide better technology and service to their customers. However, T-Mobile and Sprint are the two main providers that compete on price, which drives down the cost for wireless plans. If they merge you can expect less affordable wireless options.
This Wall Street Journal article tells us that the deal should bring scrutiny from anti-trust regulators. I certainly hope they do; someone’s got to keep these two off of each other.
While the talk surrounding smartphones often focuses on the features of the latest device. It is the operating system that can make or break the phone's usefulness. Here is a quick rundown of the available operating systems.
According to a report from the Nielson Company, Android OS currently has a 29% share of the smartphone market. It is currently, leading the pack in most used operating system. Android was developed by Google and is available for implementation by any smartphone manufacturer. Android phones are available on almost every wireless network in the US. Its developers market is open enough to allow for a multitude of apps, but also problems with malware. It is integrated with most Google products, so if you use Gmail, Gcalendar and other G-apps, you'll find this device will fit nicely with those functions. Android’s biggest potential problem is operating system fragmentation as each wireless provider decides which phone receives the newest version of the software unlike when you update a computer operating system where the consumer chooses whether to implement it or not. This system is not likely to change soon as it is one of the best methods for wireless providers to convince consumers they need to purchase new smartphones. Android OS is also being developed to operate on tablets.
Only available on one smartphone the Apple’s iPhone, it commands a 27% market share despite being limited to the four iterations of the iPhone. The OS is consistent with Apple’s high standards for usability and its oversight of applications and strict approval process limits the opportunity for malware, while its popularity continues to entice developers to create new apps. Like most Apple operating systems, it is highly stable and easy to use. Until recently, the iPhone was only available on AT&T’s network, but it has now also come to Verizon Wireless highlighting the telecom duopoly in action and perhaps reigniting all these media rumors of a T-Mobile-Sprint merger as they try to compete. iPhone OS is also the operating system of the iPad and the iPod touch.
The former gold standard of operating system and prime choice of business looking for an integrated enterprise solution it has of late taken a back seat to the Android and iPhone operating systems. Blackberry OS still maintains a 27% of the smartphone market. Blackberry OS like the iPhone is limited to one company RIM (Research in Motion) , but this Blackberry product line is a little more diverse than the line of iPhones. There are rumors circulating that rather than continue to develop hardward RIM may introduce the Blackberry OS to other smartphone manufacturers or even segment out the Blackberry Messenger app and make it available on other operating systems. RIM is also introducing a tablet, but it is unclear whether it will run on the Blackberry OS, a modification, or a separate operating system.
Windows Phone 7
A significant upgrade over the old Windows Mobile system, Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft has slowing been gaining in market share and availability. Market share for Windows Phone 7 is sitting at about 10%. The OS is available on smartphones from multiple manufacturers. In a move that should help the OS gain in popularity globally Microsoft recently entered into a billion dollar deal with Nokia to be its primary operating recently replacing Symbian OS. Symbian OS, according to the Nielson data has a 2% market share and while available to other platforms has been almost exclusively linked to Nokia.
HP took a gamble when it purchased Palm and its operating system Web OS. While it never regain its former glory from the days of the Palm Pilot, the Web OS has gained back some popularity though a few wireless providers who are selling their smartphones loaded with Web OS. Web OS currently has a 4% share of the smartphone market. It is unclear whether HP will continue to develop smartphones and try to compete with the other operating systems or if it will use Web OS mainly for tablets. There are advocates for this particular operating system out there though.
As we saw with the PC, there isn't much room for competing operating systems. Microsoft largely won the PC battle, with Linux still hanging in there. On the smartphone front, it is similarly likely that the market will not support more than 2 or 3 operating systems. It will be an interesting competition though we at UCAN have our doubts it will have much to do with consumer choice as the operating systems are not likely to ever be offered as stand-alone products for communication devices. Therefore, the first part of the equation will depend on which operating system the manufacturers choose to use. And the second part will depend on the wireless providers and which smartphones they carry. Which means it will depend on which OS meets the requirements of the carrier rather than the consumer. Anyone want to place some bets?
Cell phones, smartphones, and everything in between are more than just basic communication devices. Today we check our email, do our banking, collect information, watch entertaining videos, and pay for a number of services on top of the traditional uses of making and receiving calls and text messages. Because of all of these options the scams that have been plaguing consumers for years are still out there, but new ways of trying to deceive consumers are falling keep cropping up and scams from other mediums are appear on your phone as you use your phone for those purposes.
Recently UCAN researchers came across a pair of lists of the most common cell phone scams. One from scambusters.org and one from Fightback.com, website of David Horowitz the former host of Fight Back! With David Horowitz consumer issues news series. Verizon also has a warning page about common phone scams. Not surprising the scams on the lists were quite similar: Fraud, phone theft, cloning, spying, and a series of text message scams to name a few. These are all scams that are uniquely connected to your cell phone and we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the lists.
What is missing from these lists are the ever growing number of internet-related scams coming to the smartphone because for many it is the primary way they access the internet. The number 1 growing concern on the list: malware. Malware (short for malicious software) has plagued PCs for decades and the reason why we have to choose among all those virus scanners for computers. Malware has hit Android smartphones pretty hard recently. Last week, Google removed 21 Apps it found to be malicious from the Android Market. Any app whether it is wallpaper, a game, or some other product can be malicious. The worst offenders are the apps that attempt to root your smartphone essentially giving someone total control over your smartphone. One such Trojan that was circulating in the apps Google removed was called Droid Dream.
So are you wondering whether these devices are worth all of the risk? The answer is yes, so far. The risks aren't too great, yet. However, the primary prevention tactic is an easy one: vigilance. Yes, there are security apps that scan apps for malware and you should consider installing them. But with many of these malware apps like with most scams, a lot of times it is looking at the information requested of you. In the case of apps it’s a question of what permissions that app wants. In the case of scams via text message, email, or phone it’s a question of what the person is telling you. While not all scams can be stopped with vigilance, it is the first line of defense for consumers. In the end it’s a personal determination whether the smartphone is worth all the potential headaches and you should take those concerns into consideration, but remember not having a smartphone will not stop people from trying to scam you they will just use other means. Mail fraud anyone?
It seems that we can’t keep up with all the new phone scams that are hitting the phone lines. The latest one we bring you involves the same trickery as the other scams we touched on. But instead of reaching out to you to initiate the scam, the scammers in the fat finger dialing scam wait for you to make a simple mistake--dialing the wrong number.
According to an article by MSNBC’s ConsumerMan (no relation to our very own World’s Greatest Consumer, but both seem to share a passion for fighting for consumer rights), scammers are buying up 800 numbers that are a few digits from legitimate 800 numbers, such as for a company you are trying to reach. But by mis-dialing the legitimate 800 number, you end up being connected to the scammer’s 800 number.
Connecting to a wrong number sounds harmless enough, but the scammers don’t stop there. Generally the scammers play a message to entice you to enter in a certain number combination. When you enter this number combination, the scammers can bill your telephone bill with erroneous that can be a pain to remove.
How can you avoid these types of scams? Check, double check, and triple check the number you dial! Many phones today have either an LCD screen or a readout where you can compare the number you dialed to the number you want to call. And, as always, if you see some weird charges on your bill, call the Fraud Squad right away and we'll help you get rid of those unauthorized charges.
Taxes, Fees, and Surcharges, three of the most dreaded words in the English language for anyone who likes to communicate by wireless telecommunications service. Federal, State, and Local governments have chosen phone service as a place to charge consumers in order to pay for any number of things. They have also decided to cut the carriers a break and allow them to directly pass through charges assessed to the phone service providers to their subscribers rather than have them pay the cost and then decide how to incorporate those costs into their service plan offerings. In California, the state currently does not levy a state level tax on wireless phone service, but that does not immunize us from a number of surcharges used to support various programs. If you’re a California with wireless service here is break down of the taxes, fees, and surcharges you see every month.
This list does not include the sales tax you have to pay when you purchase a new wireless phone. In California, you pay tax on the listed price of the device, not the sale price. Meaning if the device costs $599, but the phone company will sell it to you for free if you sign up for a 2-year agreement, you still have to pay sales tax on the $599 cost of the device. Also this information only applies to wireless services. Landline services including local and long distance services may see additional taxes, fees, and surcharges that do not apply to wireless services.
The Federal Universal Service Charge: A surcharge of 5.05% that service providers are allowed to pass through to their subscribers. The charge helps subsidize the cost of telephone service to make it available to all consumers including low-income consumers, those who live in areas were the cost of providing telephone service is high, and to schools, libraries, and rural health care providers. The surcharge may be listed as some variation of the phrase "Universal Service Charge". Your bill should contain an explanation of each line item assessing a fee. The Federal Communications Commission is looking to revise this service to include funding for access to broadband. This could end up affecting the rate of the surcharge assessed to consumers.
911 or E911 Tax: Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge Tax: This tax is assessed by the California Board of Equalization. It is assessed to every user of intrastate telephone communication service and collected by the service provider. The current end-user surcharge rate is 0.50% of the intrastate telecommunication services provided.
PUC User Fee – A surcharge carriers are allowed to pass through to consumers. The fee is assessed to all telecommunications carriers providing services directly to subscribers within California. The fee funds the annual budget of the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate telecommunications utilities. The amount of the fee paid per carrier is determined by revenues subject to fees multiplied by a fee factor. The fee factor is currently 0.18%. The fee assessed on your bill is based on the subjectable revenues it assessed you that month multiplied by the fee factor.
ULTS – The Universal Lifeline Telephone Service surcharge. It is typically listed on a telephone bill as CA Lifeline. It is an end-user surcharge meaning it is a surcharge assessed to a consumer through a telephone bill. The current surcharge assessed is 1.150%. The California Public Utilities Commission is looking to make changes to its lifeline program; it is unclear as of now whether those changes will affect the surcharge rate.
CA Relay Service/Communication Device Fund – A surcharge to fund a CPUC program to provide telecommunications devices to deaf or hearing impaired consumers. The program has to components a dual party rely system service and a specialized equipment program. The program has been expanded to service California consumers with hearing, vision, speech, cognitive and mobile disabilities. The current surcharge is assessed at 0.20% of the subscriber’s bill. It is an end-user surcharge.
CA State High Cost Fund-A – An end-user surcharge to provide a source of supplement revenues to 14 small local exchange carriers (local phone providers) for the purposes of minimizing any rate disparity of basic telephone services between rural and metropolitan areas. The current surcharge rate is 0% of a subscriber’s bill. Consumers are currently not being billed for this surcharge.
CA State High Cost Fund-B – An end-user surcharge to provide subsidies to carriers of last resort for providing basic local telephone service to residential customers in high cost areas that are currently serve by AT&T California, Verizon California, Frontier Communications of California, and Cox Communications. The program is intended to keep basic telephone service affordable and to meet the Commission’s universal service goal. The current surcharge rate is 0.45% of a subscriber’s bill. There are currently pending proceedings at the CPUC which could effect the surcharge rate.
California Teleconnect Fund: An end-user surcharge to cover the costs associated with a CPUC program to provide a 50% discount on selected telecommunications services to qualifying schools, libraries, government-owned and operated hospitals and health clinics, and community based organizations. The current surcharge rate is 0.079% of a subscriber’s bill.
Utility Users Tax – Various cities, counties, and municipalities throughout the State assess this tax. The tax may be referred to as utility user, communications utility user, telephone user, or some variation therein. The rate of the tax and prescribed uses vary by the city, state, and municipality imposing the tax. For example, the City of Chula Vista has a utility tax imposed on wireless customers in Chula Vista.
Regulatory Charge – A monthly fee assessed by a wireless provider to help defray costs imposed by other telecommunications companies. Wireless providers are allowed to collect these fees independent of their rates, but there is no requirement that this fee be assessed to wireless subscribers. The rate varies by wireless providers, not all wireless providers assess this fee. It is not imposed by any government agency.....they just make it up.
Administrative Charge – A monthly fee assessed by a wireless provider to help defray administrative costs of various federal, state, and local regulatory programs. The fee Wireless providers are allowed to collect these fees independent of their rates, but there is no requirement that this fee be assessed to wireless subscribers. The rate varies by wireless providers, not all wireless providers assess this fee.
Wi-Max, LTE, HSPA+. If you've not heard of these yet, you will. They are improvements over current 3G speeds and are a step forward, but they are not actually 4G. That is, they are still not the next generation speeds that are forthcoming and they are still behind the speeds of many other countries.
President Obama wants to better position the U.S. future competitiveness through expanded access to high-speed wireless networks. That's not a bad objective. But if we are in a technology race with the rest of the world, the U.S. wireless providers have seemed less interested in winning the race than they are busy making profits. There is a reason why NASA is a government program; had it been left industry we might not ever have landed men on the moon, but there'd be a lot of billboards there. Similarly there is not enough money in advancing wireless speed technologies; not when upgrades and improvements can be dragged out over decades.
Here's one of the paradoxes. If we move to service quality and speeds that do not frustrate consumers then there is less incentive for consumers to upgrade and the leaps forward become smaller. Therefore technology advancement is spread out. It is not as discarded and buried as many technological advancements forged in the old Bell Labs were, but that is because at least now there is a modicum of competition, rather than one single company continuing to provide the same service it had offered for 100 years. The carriers continue to prefer to offer essentially mirror their competitors' services, while keeping an eye on maximizing profits. Fortunately, their fear that one will out pace the others appears to be causing at least some innovation. Not to mention the advent of separate device manufacturers from wireless service providers (another advantage of turning the monopoly into a duopoly) who also have at least more than one party to sell their newest devices to.
Acknowledging that continued innovation will be slow to develop, let’s look at each of the technology offerings. First, HSPA+ a service offering from T-Mobile and possibly AT&T. AT&T keeps stating it is offering HSPA+ but it has been unclear to what extent the roll out will actually be. For its part AT&T has also been working on transition to LTE. HSPA+ is an upgrade over the prior T-Mobile and AT&T offering HSPA. When initially transitioning to HSPA+, AT&T was referring to it merely as a system upgrade, a patch to slightly increase speed and hopefully strength its network to reduce a few of those dropped calls. T-Mobile, however, saw it as a marketing opportunity to jump into the 4G race and claim the largest 4G network. (Yes, we know, HSPA+ is not 4G, but T-Mobile's marketers didn't really care about that inconvenient fact) While the HSPA+ 21 service it has been rolling out offers theoretical peak speeds of 21Mbps down and 5.7 Mpbs. T-Mobile is also working on upgrading it to HSPA+ 42 which has even theoretically higher download speeds. The problem is that in practice (not theory) T-Mobile’s network will not likely see those types of speed at least not within the next few years.
Moving from HSPA+ to Wi-Max, Wi-Max is being rolled out primarily by Clearwire. Clearwire is not a wireless provider, but a wholesaler of the service. It has been heavily invested in by Sprint and various Cable companies. Clearwire has been struggling as of late in need of an infusion of cash. It had the advantage of being the first marketed 4G service commercially available, but suffered from being connected with Sprint, which until very recently had been losing a significant number of customers due to its poor customer services practices. Wi-Max offers download speeds of 3-6 Mpbs. There has been a lot of media speculation that Sprint will not stay with Wi-Max and will transition to LTE. Clearwire itself has also been trialing LTE service and technologically speaking it would be a very easy transition for the wholesaler. So do not be surprised if the phrase Wi-Max falls out of the lexicon and it becomes a specialized service for devices that need to be connected to a wireless network, but merely for transmitting information rather than a network used by consumers for wireless voice and data services.
This leads us to LTE. Verizon and AT&T are building networks, but do not get your hopes up that these networks will lead to interchangeable devices. They will likely operate on different frequency and though device manufacturers could certain design devices that operate on all appropriate frequency it is likely even world devices will ignore at least one of the US carrier’s frequencies depending on which company the device is made for. Also until the wireless providers transition to Voice over LTE (“VoLTE”) only the mobile internet networks will operate on LTE, leaving phone calls to the current CDMA (Verizon) and GSM (AT&T) networks respectively.
A couple of wholesalers may also build LTE networks, Clearwire as mentioned above as been trialing LTE and may transition away from Wi-Max and Lightsquared which would a combination satellite/terrestrial LTE network. Such options could help with establishing nationwide 4G networks including remote/rural areas. It may also help some of the smaller carriers compete with AT&T and Verizon. MetroPCS as an example has been rolling out LTE service its network, but has always relied on resale agreements with other network providers to offer service coverage. These wholesale networks may help Metro PCS, Cricket, and some of the MVNOs offer extensive LTE coverage in the areas and avoid falling behind if AT&T and Verizon do not offer competitive resale options.
LTE is currently being rolled out offering 5-12Mbps download speed, which will likely end up averaging faster speeds that Wi-Max and HSPA+ but probably not at very significant levels. Recently, AT&T has been pointing out this fact as it works on upgrading its network to HSPA+ and LTE arguing consumers will be less likely to notice speed drop offs in their networks unlike with Verizon when a consumer transitions from their LTE network back to their 3G network until their rollout is complete.
Now some of you may be saying those speeds are not so bad. They are on-par with DSL speed and falls into the mix of what the cable providers are offering. And it is wireless so it is portable and available at more locations. All of that is true, but that brings us back to the fact we are behind the world average. For instance LTE being rolled out in the Nordic and Baltic countries will offer speeds that average 20-80 Mbit/s, Germany is rolling out LTE service that will be have top download speeds of 50Mbps, Japan is offering LTE speeds up to 37 Mbps and even Taiwan will offer services that are 16Mbps down and 4Mpbs up (Taiwan’s speed being actual not theoretical like T-Mobile’s claimed speeds).
In fact, the actual definition of 4G until a recent about face by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) defined 4G as any wireless technology network able to achieve peak data rates of 1 GB per second. First generation LTE cannot hit those speeds nether can Wi-Max or HSPA+. The designation was being reserved for LTE Advanced and possible WiMax2 (802.16m) should it actually be rolled out. However, rather than recognize standards such as 3.5 and 3.9, the ITU caved to pressure from carriers and redefined 4G as applicable to any forerunners to LTE Advance and Wi-Max2 that is a substantial improvement over the initial 3G systems already deployed.
The next concern with the move to LTE is that there has not any real conversation by the wireless providers as to network capacity. Higher speeds will be of little use to the consumer if customer congestions degrade the experience for everyone. There are real indications that the network at least as initial rolled out will not be able to hand the customer load and will do what AT&T’s 3G network has been doing, which is dropping calls and degrading internet speeds. The clear sign that carriers do not believe that their 4G networks will not be able to handle the expected internet use of their new customers is the transition for tiered data plans. AT&T has already moved to tiered data plans for its network and Verizon has indicated time and time again it will stop offering its unlimited option and offer tiers when it releases LTE devices. While it is also a clear sign that carriers want to increase their revenue by charging an excessive rate for data, it is known a strategy to keep data use artificial low. Looking at AT&T’s tiered plans of $15 for 200MB, $25 for 2GB, or $45 for 4GB, it is apparent that the carriers do not want consumers to use much data at all despite advertising their smartphone devices for watching video and doing everything on the internet that you do with your home internet connection. Of course AT&T is also charging an extra $15 for each 200MB you use above your cap rate on the 200MB plan and the 2GB plan. For its part the 4GB plan which includes tethering charges $10 per 1GB used above the 4GB. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you are an AT&T customer on the 200 MB plan, and you use 201MB it will cost you $30 for 201MB of data use that month. Since there is a 1000 MB in 1 GB if you were on the 200MB plan, it would cost you $150. So depending on the plan you have with AT&T you could use 2GB of data for $25 per month or 2GB of data for $150 per month. There is something incomprehensive about this pricing scheme and shows it has very little to do with the actual costs of providing that data service. A more compatible pricing system may be something on par with energy pricing with per kb billing as long as a rational rate were chosen. This though is a topic for another blog.
So there you have it. 4G as advertised by the wireless provider is a slight increase in speed over 3G services, but at this point it is little more than a market ploy and an excuse to raise prices. 4G service will not be available nationwide for a number of year. Speeds will not significantly exceed what improvements to the current 3G service could achieve. The US wireless network will still be significantly lower than many other places in the world. In 3 or 4 years, there may be some complete 4G networks including wholesale owned networks. It will hopefully lead towards LTE-Advanced a true 4G network and a complete service that includes voice and data, rather than data alone.
As citizens of this country, this county, and this city, we were given a right in 1968 to inspect public records by the California Public Records Act (PRA).
Unfortunately, the process wasn’t exactly made Average Joe/Joanne-friendly. There are guides and instructions to try to simplify the process, but most are created by the government agency that you are trying to request from. So here’s the breakdown in non-government speak on how you can make your public records requests:
1. Figure out which agency has the information.
If a STATE agency has control of the document, you can request it using the PRA. If you want to get copies of federal agency, legislative, or court documents, you have to go through the Federal Freedom of Information Act or the Public Rights of Access to Courts.
Identifying the agency may be the hardest part, but it’s not too bad. Some organizations you can request from include the Department of Water Resources, Public Utilities Commission, State Water Resources Control Board, all regional water quality control boards, as well as the DMV, Department of Justice, and Secretary of State.
There is a very clear list of SOME of the agencies on pages 21 and 22 of the California Public Records Act
2. Put the request in writing (snail mail or email work).
The more specific you can be, the better. Dates, subject, title, or author would be wonderful but the act allows for some breathing room in case you aren’t familiar with the department or the record you are looking for. Any department that doesn’t list an index of its records is required to assist you in identifying the record when it is unclear which one you’re looking for.
You should definitely include:
a) That you are requesting the information under the PRA.
b) A description of the record.
c) Whether you are using it for “personal use,” “commercial use,” or “scholarly study.” They will use the information to determine copying fees, which can also vary depending on agency and amount of work involved in finding the record.
d) Your contact information so they can respond.
3. Mail it off and Wait.
If you know which department you are requesting information from, check their website for an address, but keep in mind not every agency will provide information on where to send it. All of the examples given above and on pages 21 and 22 of the act are required to tell you where to send it.
Some agencies will try to hide this information like the Easter Bunny hides eggs, but even if they don’t have the information posted they have to give you the record you request if they have it, are a state agency, there are no exemptions, and you follow the above guidelines.
I recently went on the SD Water Department webpage and couldn’t find anything. Next, I tried the SPUD (San Diego Public Utility Department) webpage to find out where to send a request for records in the water department. Regretfully I gave up after burying myself in links. I wrote to the webmaster of SPUD asking them to point me in the right direction to get public information from the water department.
The response? “You can send a request for information to me and I will pass it on to the right person. There is no formal form or guide to fill out.”
That was all that was included in the response besides a greeting and a sign off.
The response happened to be from SPUD Public Information Officer Kidman. Not the webmaster, not even anyone from the water department. No mention of the PRA, the guidelines written about it, what information to include, or who I can send it to, let alone follow up with.
Don’t be fooled! Make sure you are getting your written request to the right person so you know who to follow up with and that it gets to the right department. It is one of the requirements that you request from the appropriate department. Don’t give them an opportunity to deny your request or send you on a wild goose chase. For information from SPUD, follow the instructions from the City of San Diego website, which you can find here: http://www.sandiego.gov/city-clerk/contact/requests.shtml.
After you send the request, the agency has 10 days to respond, either accepting or denying your request. In some unusual circumstances they may need another 14 days.
Unusual circumstances are supposed to be when they don’t have the resources or personnel to find your document.
Unfortunately, it seems “unusual circumstances” sometimes happen even when common sense tells us they have the documents right on hand, but don’t want to get around to the request. Don't put up with this! If you feel that SPUD is giving you the run around, contact us and we will help you get the information you are requesting!
So now that you have all the tools you need to request, take advantage, but remember you will need to be patient and assertive in your right to know!
In February, a burglar posing as a San Diego Water Department employee went into the home of an elderly couple claiming he was checking on a problem with their plumbing and needed to come inside to check their faucets. While he was distracting the victims, a second man entered and stole cash and jewelry from the bedrooms. They both left on foot and no vehicle was seen.
This is a reminder to everyone that employees from the San Diego Water Department asking to enter your home should be in uniform with a badge or identification. They will be driving a vehicle with city decals and will never engage in door-to-door sales or bill collection. Keep in mind, water quality samples will usually be taken from outside and if they do need to enter, an appointment will be made. Unless an appointment is made, a water department employee will almost never have reason to ask for entry.
Even if they are inquiring about a problem that you have noticed, and even if you have talked to someone at the department about it, don’t be afraid to ask them the details of the problem or how they knew your home was even having a problem. You may not know what the correct answer is, but the employee should answer with some certainty and degree of knowledge.
For more information on how to protect yourself from criminals posing as water department employees, visit http://www.sandiego.gov/water/operations/imposters.shtml
If you have information regarding this crime please contact the San Diego Police Department Eastern Division at (858) 495-7900 or San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is hosting a Forum on May 11, 2011 to examine how government, business, and consumer protection organizations can work together to prevent consumers from receiving unauthorized third-party charges on their phone bills. This practice is known as cramming.
The forum is being held in Washington D.C. and is open to the public. Interest parties may submit comments online. Comments must be submitted by April 27, 2011. For more information on filing comments please see the FTC news release on the forum.
UCAN has been a strong advocate before the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Communications Commission on the issue of consumer protection and cramming. And we have assisted many consumers who have experienced cramming receive credits on their phone bill.
Remember if you are in California and have been billed for unauthorized charges on your phone bill the UCAN Fraud Squad may be able to help you get those charges removed. Please submit an online complaint form.