Photo: Emily Metcalf
Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY JAMES MACEY – I called my phone company about a charge on my phone bill for $3.25 and was told by the customer service representative that the charge was for an Interstate Surcharge authorized by the Hawaii State Public Utilities Commission (PUC) as a temporary charge until the PUC could make a final determination.

I checked copies of my older bills and the charge was on them also. I have asked both my phone company and PUC what this charge is for and was told it was a temporary charge authorized by PUC. They could not tell me what the charge was actually for. After repeated calls and emails, I finally got PUC to respond with this:

1. General Definitions and Regulations

1.34 Intrastate Surcharge

This surcharge is for the purpose of recovering a revenue increase of $23.6 million authorized in Decision and Order No. 15345 in Docket No. 94-0298 and Docket No. 95-0194 (consolidated), and $1.3 million authorized in Order No. 15999 in the same dockets. The $1.3 million recovers the rural Customers’ portion of the cost of the Rural Service Plan.

Effective October 13, 1997, a surcharge of 11.23% will apply to all regulated intrastate rates and charges except interisland toll services, intrastate switched access, public and Convenience Pay Telephone Services, miscellaneous services and other surcharges.

A look at PUC document that was sent to me says the charge is to recover $23.6 million and $1.3 million for a total of $24.9 million. If this charge is temporary and effective since October of 1997 that is 15 temporary years.

The population of Oahu is over 900,000 but if only 100,000 customers were charged $3.25 for 15 years that is around $58.5 million. That is almost double the $24.9 million that was authorized to be recovered.

This needs to be investigated, audited and corrected. There is potentially an overpayment of 10′s of millions of dollars and if there has been an overpayment then the people should be refunded the amount of the overpayment.

There is also the problem of what is this and other charges doing on our utility bills. Is the PUC colluding with utility companies to take extra profits? Is this more government welfare at the citizens expense?

Hawaii costs for electricity rates per Kilowatt Hour are the highest in the nation. This begs the question of all PUC charges on not just phone bills but our electric bills as well.

Come on Governor Abercrombie, do the right thing and fix this.