PEOPLE'S COUNSEL

ORIGIN & FUNCTIONS


[photo, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland] In 1924, the office of People's Counsel was established (Chapter 534, Acts of 1924). The office advocates for consumers in proceedings that affect the cost, reliability and quality of public utilities service. Maryland was the first state to form such a consumer advocacy office.

Before the Public Service Commission and the courts, the People's Counsel represents the interests of residential and noncommercial users of natural gas, electric, telephone, sewer, water, and regulated transportation services, such as taxicabs. Operating independently of the Public Service Commission, the People's Counsel evaluates matters pending before the Commission, and may request that the Commission initiate proceedings to protect consumers.

William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Maryland, July 2003. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the People's Counsel appears in matters involving wholesale market issues and interstate transmission-line costs to be allocated to Maryland consumers. In addition, the People's Counsel advises on actions by the Federal Communications Commission which regulates interstate communications by radio, tv, wire, satellite, and cable.

The People's Counsel responds to consumer complaints about business practices of energy and telecommunications providers. For low-income users, moreover, the office works to resolve problems with service, gas and electric billing disputes, and terminations of service to vulnerable customers. Through consumer education programs, the People's Counsel informs utility customers about their rights.

Appointed by the Attorney General with Senate advice and consent, the People's Counsel serves a five-year term and must be an attorney-at-law of the State (Chapter 5, Acts of 2006 Special Session; Code Public Utilities Article, secs. 2-201 through 2-206).

The People's Counsel functions through two units: Administration, and Consumer Assistance.


ADMINISTRATION

For the People's Counsel, Administration oversees accounting, procurement, and budget preparation.

CONSUMER ASSISTANCE

In November 2003, the Consumer Assistance Unit was created first under Administration, and then transferred to Consumer Affairs in 2005. Consumer Affairs restructured as Consumer Assistance in 2006.

Consumer Assistance provides representation to individual consumers and investigates complaints regarding billing, or the quality of billing for utility services. For residential consumers, the office offers education, referrals, and training about utility services and changes in energy markets. To improve access to energy assistance and other resources for low-income Marylanders, this office also coordinates outreach efforts for the People's Counsel.

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