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What should I know about public utilities?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Public utility laws in Georgia Resources

Public utility laws in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What is a public utility?

 Examples of utilities include:

  • electricity, 

  • natural gas, 

  • Internet, 

  • cable, 

  • telephone, 

  • security/alarm systems, 

  • trash collection, and 

  • water and sewer. 

 

Most utility companies that offer electric, natural gas and telecommunications are regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). If you have a complaint about a bill or are dealing with the disconnection of a regulated utility, you can resolve your problem through the PSC.

 

Other utilities are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including: 

  • cell phone carriers, 

  • cable, 

  • internet and 

  • satellite television services.

 

For these services, you can resolve your problem with the utility company or file a complaint with the FCC.

 

Water and sewer utilities are regulated at the county, city, and town levels. Disputes about billing and disconnected service should go through the utility company first. You can then file a complaint with the governmental body that regulates the utility. 

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What are my rights and responsibilities with public utility service?

Everyone has the right to get public utility service if: 

  • you ask for service, and 

  • are willing to pay for it.

 

You are responsible for setting up utilities and for paying for any service you receive. 

 

With PSC regulated utilities, you have the right: 

  • to get notice before a utility is disconnected, 

  • to be told the reason for the shut-off,

  • to appeal any shut-off decision.

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What are the utility company’s rights and responsibilities?

Can a utility company ask for a deposit?

Utility companies can ask you for a deposit before they connect your service. Many companies will require a deposit for: 

  • new customers with poor credit or 

  • customers who have had issues with payment in the past.

 

If your service is shut off, many companies will require a deposit before you  There are some limitations:

  • The company’s policy must be the same for all customers,

  • If the company is regulated by the Public Service Commission, the deposit cannot be more than allowed by Georgia law,

    • For electric, the maximum deposit Georgia Power can charge is 2.5 times the expected average monthly bill.

    • For natural gas, the maximum deposit is $150, unless you qualify for LIHEAP. For LIHEAP customers, the maximum deposit is $100.

    • For telephone companies, the maximum deposit is 2.5 times the average monthly bill.

  

When can a utility company deny service?

A utility company has the right to deny you a service if you owe money for the same kind of utility. But, a utility company cannot deny service just because you have been late paying your bill in the past.

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When can a utility company shut off your service?

When can a gas or electric company disconnect service?

If you do not pay your electric bill forty-five days after it is due, the electric company may disconnect your service. Before turning off the electricity, the company must send a notice at least five days before the date of disconnection. The disconnect notice must look different from the past bill for service and state:

 

  • The earliest date for the proposed disconnection,

  • The amount due and the reason for the proposed disconnection,

  • A telephone number you  may call for information about the proposed disconnection,

  • How to prevent disconnection of service,

  • Information known to the utility that may assist the consumer in paying the bill.

 

At least two (2) days before proposed disconnection, the utility must try to make personal contact by:

telephone, 

  • certified mail, 

  • or other methods designed to notify you of the disconnection.

 

The date of the disconnect must be a business day when a representative of the utility is available to receive payment from the customer.

 

When can a gas or electric company NOT disconnect service?

Utility companies cannot disconnect gas or utility service: 

  • between November 15th and March 15th if the forecast says the temperature will be below 32 degrees or 

  • during the summer if there is a National Weather Service Heat Advisory or Excessive Heat Warning (generally above 98 degrees). 

 

Although service cannot be disconnected during these times, you must agree in writing: 

  • to pay the past due amount and 

  • pay the bill for the current service. 

 

If you continue not to pay after the seasonal hold is over, your service will be disconnected. You will have to pay the past due amount as well as an additional deposit before you can get it reconnected.

 

If someone living in the home has a serious illness that could get worse if there was no electricity or gas, your service cannot be disconnected for not paying. But, you must:

  • Notify the company of the illness in writing. 

  • Within 10 days of giving notice, you must provide a written statement from a doctor, the county board of health, a hospital or clinic.  The notice must identify the illness, says how long it is expected to last, and say that it would get worse if the utility is disconnected.  

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What can I do? +

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What can I do if I need help paying my utility bills?

If you are having a hard time paying your utility bills, there are steps you can take to get help before your utility is disconnected.

  • Contact the utility company. Some companies offer reduced rates and payment plans for people with a low-income. 

  • Look for programs that help with utility payments. 

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How can I file a complaint against a utility company?

If you have a problem with one of your utilities, it is important to know who to contact. 

 

Some public utilities that offer electric, natural gas and telecommunications are regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). Check the PSC website to see if the utility you have a complaint about is regulated by that agency. If it is a PSC regulated utility, then you can file a complaint on the PSC website.

 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates telephone carriers, internet, cable, and satellite services. At the FCC Consumer Complaint Center, you can file a complaint. For general questions, call 1-888-225-5322.

 

Water and sewer services are regulated on the county, city, and town level. If your problem is with your water or sewer company, you should file a complaint with the utility company. If your issue is not resolved, you can file a complaint with government body that provides your water and sewer service.

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Resources

  • Visit Georgia’s HUD.Gov Help With Your Utility Bills resource.
  • Visit the Georgia Public Service Commission website to compare utility rates and choose the best utility companies in your area. 

  • Visit Heating Energy Assistance Team, Inc (H.E.A.T.)’s Help page to learn more about paying your winter heating bills.

  • Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) page to find out about this federally-funded program to help eligible low income households meet their home heating and/or cooling needs.

  • To learn how to help older Americans avoid loss of utility service, read the National Consumer Law Center’s resource for assistance, strategies for becoming current on utility bills, and fighting a termination of services.

  • Learn about the Lifeline Assistance Program & Link-up Georgia that help reduce telephone costs for eligible consumers.

  • File a complaint about telephone, internet, cable, and satellite services with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center.
Last Review and Update: Jan 21, 2020