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SENATE BILL NO. 289
INTRODUCED BY S. DOHERTY, J. LYNCH, J. BOHLINGER, S. GALLUS, G. JERGESON, L. NELSON,
D. SHEA, F. THOMAS
AN ACT ALLOWING TELEPHONE CUSTOMERS TO SUE OPERATOR SERVICE PROVIDERS FOR CHARGING EXORBITANT RATES FOR INTRASTATE PHONE CALLS; PROVIDING THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION WITH AUTHORITY TO SET RATE CAPS FOR CERTAIN CALLS; REQUIRING OPERATOR SERVICE PROVIDERS TO DISCLOSE RATES TO CUSTOMERS; ESTABLISHING A PENALTY FOR RATE VIOLATIONS; PROVIDING COSTS AND ATTORNEY FEES TO THE PREVAILING PARTY IN A COURT ACTION; AND REQUIRING DISCLOSURE ON CUSTOMER BILLS.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:
Section 1. Purpose. The purpose of [sections 1 through 6] is to provide aggrieved customers and the commission a course of action against operator service providers that charge customers exorbitant rates for intrastate calls from a pay telephone or certain other telephones in commercial establishments and public facilities and to ensure that customers are fully aware of which charges on their monthly bill are owed to an operator service provider and of how a customer can reach the operator service provider for the purpose of contesting the amount charged.
Section 2. Definitions. As used in [sections 1 through 6], the following definitions apply:
(1) "Aggregator surcharge" means a charge to a customer by an entity that, in the ordinary course of its operations, makes telephones available to the public or to transient users of its premises for intrastate telephone calls using an operator service provider.
(2) "Customer" means a person who makes an intrastate telephone call through an operator service provider or the person accepting a collect telephone call made through an operator service provider.
(3) " Exorbitant rate" means a rate for an intrastate telephone call completed by an operator service provider that is greater than the allowable rate established by the commission. The allowable rate is inclusive of the call rate and any aggregator surcharge or other calling fee collected from a customer by the operator service provider.
(4) "Operator service provider" means any person, company, or entity that provides automated or live assistance to a customer to arrange for billing or completion, or both, of an intrastate telephone call through a method other than:
(a) automatic completion, with billing to the telephone from which the call originated; or
(b) completion through an access code used by the customer, with billing to an account previously established with a telecommunications carrier by the customer.
(5) "Telecommunications carrier" means the same as provided in 69-3-1302(5).
Section 3. Administrative rules. The commission may adopt rules that it determines are necessary to implement [sections 1 through 6].
Section 4. Disclosure requirements. An operator service provider shall:
(1) identify itself, audibly and distinctly, to the customer at the beginning of each telephone call and before the customer incurs any charges. Each operator service provider shall also identify itself to the billed party when verifying third-party billed calls.
(2) disclose, audibly and distinctly to the customer, at no charge and before connecting any intrastate call, how to obtain the total cost of the call, including any aggregator surcharge, or the maximum possible total cost of the call, including any aggregator surcharge, before providing further advice to the customer on how to proceed to make the call. The voice disclosure required in this section must instruct each customer that the customer may obtain applicable rate and surcharge amounts by dialing not more than two digits or by remaining on the line.
(3) upon request, fully and immediately disclose to the customer, at no charge, the operator service provider's method of collecting its charges, a description of the operator service provider's method of resolving customer complaints, a toll-free telephone number that can be used to report complaints to or contest charges of the operator service provider, and all other requested information pertinent to the customer's use of the operator service provider's services. The provisions of this subsection apply to the called party on collect calls.
(4) permit the customer to terminate the telephone call at no charge before the call is connected to the called party.
Section 5. Operator service provider liability -- penalty -- costs and fees entitlement -- jurisdiction. (1) An operator service provider that charges a customer more than the allowable rate is liable:
(a) to the customer for three times the cost of the call charged to the customer or $500, whichever is greater; and
(b) to the state for the penalty prescribed in 69-3-206, for other commission enforcement actions pursuant to 69-3-110, and for a violation of applicable rules authorized by [section 3].
(2) In a suit or enforcement action brought against an operator service provider, the prevailing party is entitled to recover costs and attorney fees in a sum that the court finds reasonable.
(3) A customer has the right to seek remedy in a Montana court.
Section 6. Billing disclosure requirements. A telecommunications carrier that enters into a contract with an operator service provider for the purpose of providing billing services for operator service providers shall include a disclosure in each customer's bill that:
(1) plainly and clearly identifies the operator service provider charges as distinct from those of the telecommunications carrier; and
(2) includes accurate information about the operator service provider so that the customer may contact the operator service provider by telephone for the purpose of contesting the charge or bringing an action against the operator service provider, or both. Upon request of the customer, the local service provider shall provide mailing address information about the operator service provider.
Section 7. Codification instruction. [Sections 1 through 6] are intended to be codified as an integral part of Title 69, chapter 3, and the provisions of Title 69, chapter 3, apply to [sections 1 through 6].
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Latest Version of SB 289 (SB0289.ENR)
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