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RULE §7.45Quality of Service

For gas utility service to residential and small commercial customers, the following minimum service standards shall be applicable in unincorporated areas. In addition, each gas distribution utility is ordered to amend its service rules to include said minimum service standards within the utility service rules applicable to residential and small commercial customers within incorporated areas, but only to the extent that said minimum service standards do not conflict with standards lawfully established within a particular municipality for a gas distribution utility. Said gas distribution utility shall file service rules incorporating said minimum service standards with the Railroad Commission and with the municipalities in the manner prescribed by law.

  (1) Continuity of service.

    (A) Service interruptions.

      (i) Every gas utility shall make all reasonable efforts to prevent interruptions of service. When interruptions occur, the utility shall reestablish service within the shortest possible time consistent with prudent operating principles so that the smallest number of customers are affected.

      (ii) Each utility shall make reasonable provisions to meet emergencies resulting from failure of service, and each utility shall issue instructions to its employees covering procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency in order to prevent or mitigate interruption or impairment of service.

      (iii) In the event of national emergency or local disaster resulting in disruption of normal service, the utility may, in the public interest, interrupt service to other customers to provide necessary service to civil defense or other emergency service agencies on a temporary basis until normal service to these agencies can be restored.

    (B) Record of interruption. Except for momentary interruptions which do not cause a major disruption of service, each utility shall keep a complete record of all interruptions, both emergency and scheduled. This record shall show the cause of interruptions, date, time duration, location, approximate number of customers affected, and, in cases of emergency interruptions, the remedy and steps taken to prevent recurrence.

    (C) Report to commission. The commission shall be notified in writing within 48 hours of interruptions in service affecting the entire system or any major division thereof lasting more than four hours. The notice shall also state the cause of such interruptions. If any service interruption is reported to the commission otherwise (for example, as a curtailment report or safety report), such other report is sufficient to comply with the terms of this paragraph.

  (2) Customer relations.

    (A) Information to customers. Each utility shall:

      (i) maintain a current set of maps showing the physical locations of its facilities. All distribution facilities shall be labeled to indicate the size or any pertinent information which will accurately describe the utility's facilities. These maps, or such other maps as may be required by the regulatory authority, shall be kept by the utility in a central location and will be available for inspection by the regulatory authority during normal working hours. Each business office or service center shall have available up-to-date maps, plans, or records of its immediate area, with such other information as may be necessary to enable the utility to advise applicants and others entitled to the information as to the facilities available for serving that locality;

      (ii) assist the customer or applicant in selecting the most economical rate schedule;

      (iii) in compliance with applicable law or regulations, notify customers affected by a change in rates or schedule or classification;

      (iv) post a notice in a conspicuous place in each business office of the utility where applications for service are received informing the public that copies of the rate schedules and rules relating to the service of the utility as filed with the commission are available for inspection;

      (v) upon request inform its customers as to the method of reading meters;

      (vi) provide to new customers, at the time service is initiated or as an insert in the first billing, a pamphlet or information packet containing the following information. This information shall be provided in English and Spanish as necessary to adequately inform the customers; provided, however, the regulatory authority upon application and a showing of good cause may exempt the utility from the requirement that the information be provided in Spanish:

        (I) the customer's right to information concerning rates and services and the customer's right to inspect or obtain at reproduction cost a copy of the applicable tariffs and service rules;

        (II) the customer's right to have his or her meter checked without charge under paragraph (7) of this section, if applicable;

        (III) the time allowed to pay outstanding bills;

        (IV) grounds for termination of service;

        (V) the steps the utility must take before terminating service;

        (VI) how the customer can resolve billing disputes with the utility and how disputes and health emergencies may affect termination of service;

        (VII) information on alternative payment plans offered by the utility;

        (VIII) the steps necessary to have service reconnected after involuntary termination;

        (IX) the appropriate regulatory authority with whom to register a complaint and how to contact such authority;

        (X) the hours, addresses, and telephone numbers of utility offices where bills may be paid and information may be obtained; and

        (XI) the customer's right to be instructed by the utility how to read his or her meter;

      (vii) at least once each calendar year, notify customers that information is available upon request, at no charge to the customer, concerning the items listed in clause (vi)(I) - (XI) of this subparagraph. This notice may be accomplished by use of a billing insert or a printed statement upon the bill itself.

    (B) Customer complaints. Upon complaint to the utility by residential or small commercial customers either at its office, by letter, or by telephone, the utility shall promptly make a suitable investigation and advise the complainant of the results thereof. If shall keep a record of all complaints which shall show the name and address of the complainant, the date and nature of the complaint, and the adjustment or disposition thereof for a period of one year subsequent to the final disposition of the complaint.

    (C) Utility response. Upon receipt of a complaint, either by letter or by telephone, from the regulatory authority on behalf of a customer, the utility shall make a suitable investigation and advise the regulatory authority and complainant of the results thereof. An initial response must be made by the next working day. The utility must make a final and complete response within 15 days from the date of the complaint, unless additional time is granted within the 15-day period. The commission encourages all customer complaints to be made in writing to assist the regulatory authority in maintaining records of the quality of service of each utility; however, telephone communications will be acceptable.

    (D) Deferred payment plan. The utility is encouraged to offer a deferred payment plan for delinquent residential accounts. If such a plan is offered, it shall conform to the following guidelines:

      (i) Every deferred payment plan entered into due to the customer's inability to pay the outstanding bill in full must provide that service will not be discontinued if the customer pays current bills and a reasonable amount of the outstanding bill and agrees to pay the balance in reasonable installments until the bill is paid.

      (ii) For purposes of determining reasonableness under these rules, the following shall be considered: size of delinquent account; customer's ability to pay; customer's payment history; time that the debt has been outstanding; reasons why debt has been outstanding; and other relevant factors concerning the circumstances of the customer.

      (iii) A deferred payment plan, if reduced to writing, offered by a utility shall state, immediately preceding the space provided for the customer's signature and in bold-face print at least two sizes larger than any other used, that: "If you are not satisfied with this agreement, do not sign. If you are satisfied with this agreement, you give up your right to dispute the amount due under the agreement except for the utility's failure or refusal to comply with the terms of this agreement."

      (iv) A deferred payment plan may include a one-time 5.0% penalty for late payment on the original amount of the outstanding bill with no prompt payment discount allowed except in cases where the outstanding bill is unusually high as a result of the utility's error (such as an inaccurately estimated bill or an incorrectly read meter). A deferred payment plan shall not include a finance charge.

      (v) If a customer for utility service has not fulfilled terms of a deferred payment agreement or refuses to sign the same if it is reduced to writing, the utility shall have the right to disconnect pursuant to disconnection rules herein and, under such circumstances, it shall not be required to offer a subsequent negotiation of a deferred payment agreement prior to disconnection.

      (vi) Any utility which institutes a deferred payment plan shall not refuse a customer participation in such a program on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, marital status, age, or any other form of discrimination prohibited by law.

    (E) Delayed payment of bills by elderly persons.

      (i) Applicability. This subparagraph applies only to:

        (I) a utility that assesses late payment charges on residential customers and that suspends service before the 26th day after the date of the bill for which collection action is taken;

        (II) utility bills issued on or after August 30, 1993; and

        (III) an elderly person, as defined in clause (ii) of this subparagraph, who is a residential customer and who occupies the entire premises for which a delay is requested.

      (ii) Definitions.

        (I) Elderly person--A person who is 60 years of age or older.

        (II) Utility--A gas utility or municipally owned utility, as defined in Texas Utilities Code, §§101.003(7), 101.003(8), and 121.001 - 121.006.

      (iii) An elderly person may request that the utility implement the delay for either the most recent utility bill or for the most recent utility bill and each subsequent utility bill.

      (iv) On request of an elderly person, a utility shall delay without penalty the payment date of a bill for providing utility services to that person until the 25th day after the date on which the bill is issued.

      (v) The utility may require the requesting person to present reasonable proof that the person is 60 years of age or older.

      (vi) Every utility shall notify its customers of this delayed payment option no less often than yearly. A utility may include this notice with other information provided pursuant to subparagraph (A) of this paragraph.

  (3) Refusal of service.

    (A) Compliance by applicant. Any utility may decline to serve an applicant for whom service is available from previously installed facilities until such applicant has complied with the state and municipal regulations and approved rules and regulations of the utility on file with the commission governing the service applied for or for the following reasons.

      (i) Applicant's facilities inadequate. If the applicant's installation or equipment is known to be hazardous or of such character that satisfactory service cannot be given.

      (ii) For indebtedness. If the applicant is indebted to any utility for the same kind of service as that applied for; provided, however, that in the event the indebtedness of the applicant for service is in dispute, the applicant shall be served upon complying with the applicable deposit requirement.

      (iii) Refusal to make deposit. For refusal to make a deposit if applicant is required to make a deposit under these rules.

    (B) Applicant's recourse. In the event that the utility shall refuse to serve an applicant under the provisions of these rules, the utility must inform the applicant of the basis of its refusal and that the applicant may file a complaint with the municipal regulatory authority or commission, whichever is appropriate.

    (C) Insufficient grounds for refusal to serve. The following shall not constitute sufficient cause for refusal of service to a present customer or applicant:

      (i) delinquency in payment for service by a previous occupant of the premises to be served;

      (ii) failure to pay for merchandise or charges for nonutility service purchased from the utility;

      (iii) failure to pay a bill to correct previous underbilling due to misapplication of rates more than six months prior to the date of application;

      (iv) violation of the utility's rules pertaining to operation of nonstandard equipment or unauthorized attachments which interfere with the service of others unless the customer has first been notified and been afforded reasonable opportunity to comply with these rules;

      (v) failure to pay a bill of another customer as guarantor thereof unless the guarantee was made in writing to the utility as a condition precedent to service; and


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