Pushback on proposal for rebates for no garbage pickup, phone service


In addition to losing electricity from Hurricane Irma last fall, millions of Floridians went without cable television and garbage pickup for days and sometimes weeks, and yet still had to pay their bills in full.

One Florida lawmaker would like to change that in the future.

A bill sponsored by Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine (HB 971) would forbid garbage pickup companies, cable companies, and landline telephone companies from charging the public for services they do not provide.

“The purpose of the bill is not to generate refunds for consumers,” Fine told members of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee at a workshop on Wednesday. “The purpose of the bill is to change the incentive structure that these government-sanctioned monopolies operate under.”

The bill would not target investor-owned utilities. Fine said that while those companies are monopolies, they had a financial incentive to get power on as quickly as possible, since they were losing approximately $10 million a day by not offering service.

Conversely, he said the telecom and waste management companies had no incentive to resume services, since they weren’t losing any money.

The committee then heard responses from representatives from those industries being targeted in the proposal. Not surprisingly, they disagreed with the proposal.

AT&T lobbyist Tracy Hatch rejected Fine’s premise that there were no incentives for his company not to fix the problem. “We’re out because power is out 99 percent of the time,” he said. “Our proration of service still applies, but there’s nothing we can do to fix it.”

He said that AT&T does offer credits for those who go days without wireless service. And he said that AT&T did have an incentive to get their service restored, since a long outage prompts angry customers to watch to switch to another cable/internet company.

Hatch raised eyebrows when he said that A&T was often not aware when their customers lose service, and had to rely on them to contact the company. He said AT&T would be aware if there was a cable cut, but he said that it would be cost prohibitive to find out otherwise.

Keyna Cory, speaking for the National Waste and Recycling Association, disputed Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw‘s question about why waste management companies would charge customers if their garbage hadn’t been picked up in three weeks. Corey responded that those companies are not billing them – the local governments are.

That question was then presented to Rebecca O’Hara with the Florida League of Cities. She questioned how much such a credit should be, and said that even if a customer went a month without having their garbage collected, it ultimately would be, and thus they were still getting what they paid for.

Deputy Mayor Tres Holton of Palm Bay said garbage wasn’t picked up in his city for weeks after Irma, and he strongly backed the proposal. “This is a health and safety issue,” he said.

Added Zayne Smith with Florida AARP: “Getting billed for services you don’t receive? That’s a big deal with seniors.”

Though the bill seems far from being a finished product, lawmakers sounded more confident in supporting going after waste management companies more than cable/internet/wireless ones.

“This should serve as a warning. Don’t be greedy during hurricanes, or we’ll come after you,” said Tampa Republican Jackie Toledo. 

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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