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State PSC revokes Indiana telecom company’s license

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Public Service Commission on Tuesday revoked the license of an Indiana company that is being investigated in several states for switching customers’ long-distance service without authorization and charging for services that weren’t ordered.

The commission’s action against Buzz Telecom, which lists its headquarters as Merill-ville, Ind., came after complaints last year, mostly from elderly customers.

The PSC also will seek the maximum of $7,000 in fines from the company, which was certified to provide long-distance service in the state in 2003.

Tracking offenders

Attorney General Troy King said the company had similar complaints when it operated in Alabama years ago under the name Business Options. King is now calling for the creation of a database to track companies that are “habitual offenders.”

“There were dozens of complaints filed against them back then and they entered into a settlement agreement with the state,” he said. “That’s why we need to know who the people are, so you can’t just change your name and come back. Until these complaints, we didn’t know they were the same people and they had already slammed and crammed Alabamians and taken advantage of them.”

PSC spokesman Clark Bruner said the commission received 19 complaints against Buzz Telecom last year for “slamming,” or switching providers without approval, and “cramming,” which is industry lingo for adding charges to bills for services not ordered.

Bruner said five of those complaints were settled last summer, but the remaining 14 are still unresolved. The commission’s maximum fine is $500 for each of those outstanding complaints.

Failure to appear

The commission held a Jan. 3 hearing for Buzz Telecom officials to respond and say why their license should not be revoked, but they did not appear. It is not known how many customers the company has in Alabama.

“As far as I know we have not heard from the company,” Bruner said. “We’re not even sure that they’ll pay the penalty. It’s hard to collect a fine from somebody you can’t find.”

A call and an e-mail to the company’s headquarters in Indiana were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Multi-state investigation

Georgia officials are investigating 150 complaints against the company and similar inquires have been made or are under way in North Carolina, Ohio, Montana and Maine.

The Iowa Utilities Board had received about 115 complaints about a telemarketing campaign conducted by Buzz Telecom in which officials say the company represents itself as a phone carrier and offers savings on long-distance service.

Bruner said the company is suspected of doing a similar telemarketing campaign in Alabama last November and December, when the majority of complaints were received.

“Several people remember talking to them on the phone, but did not remember authorizing them to change their provider and that is slamming,” he said.

According to the Buzz Telecom Web site, the company is a privately held switchless long distance telephone carrier and has been in the telecommunications industry for more than a decade, helping nearly 500,000 people “save on their service.”

“Our goal is to have happy and satisfied customers,” a statement on the site reads. “We know our rates are the best in the long distance industry and we’re striving to be #1 in customer satisfaction as well.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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