Gov. Brown on SB 50 by Sen. Ted W. Lieu: Payphone customers should not be misled

August 26, 2013
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Sen. Ted W. Lieu law requiring full disclosure of costs begins Jan. 1, 2014

SACRAMENTO – Stranded travelers, members of the military in transit and cellphone users who unexpectedly find themselves with dead batteries will soon be better protected from surprise payphone charges of $20 or more for 20 seconds.
 
“Gov. Brown should be commended for providing greater protections to those forced to use plastic cards for payphone calls when stranded by poor weather, flight delays or a dead cellphone battery,” Sen. Ted W. Lieu, D-Torrance, said about Senate Bill 50. “Thanks to support from seniors, veterans and consumers, my new law will put an end to consumers being unknowingly ripped off when using a credit card, debit, or calling card to make a payphone call.”
 
Specifically, SB 50 will require an estimated 30,000 payphones statewide to include easily visible signage warning credit-, debit-, and calling-card users of possible charges and fees associated with placing a call. Also required will be provision of a toll-free number for users to obtain cost information.
 
SB 50 closes a loophole created by federal deregulation of payphones in 1986 that allowed unlimited charges when plastic cards are used. At present, cost information is only required for coin-activated payphone calls.
 
“Unfortunately, many payphone providers that accept cards limit their postings to just the cash price,” Lieu said. “Too often, consumers often face outrageous fees if using plastic and don’t learn about these fees until their bill arrives. SB 50 will allow the consumer to decide – before incurring costs – whether they want to pay.”
 
Lieu also cited recent media investigations that showed between 500,000 and 800,000 US troops traveling to and from Iraq and Afghanistan had no choice but to use expensive card-only payphones when in transit.
 
“What is particularly troubling is the victimization of our service members enabled through this loophole,” Lieu said.
 
SB 50 takes effect Jan. 1, 2014. Payphone providers will be given one year to update the estimated 30,000 payphones statewide. This also allows the Public Utilities Commission one year to inspect each payphone to ensure compliance. The PUC said SB 50 would not incur any additional state costs because the phones must be inspected regularly anyway. When completed, card rates will be posted in a visible location on the phone and also available through a toll-free number.
 
SB 50, which received bipartisan support, was supported by the PUC, senior and veterans’ groups, ratepayer advocates and California airports, where much of the state’s payphones are located.

For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 50, visit Lieu’s Web site at the address below.

Ted W. Lieu chairs the Senate Labor Committee and represents nearly 1 million residents of Senate District 28, which includes the cities of Carson, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance, as well as portions of Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Pedro. For more, visit www.senate.ca.gov/lieu