[Update: See NSTAR’s apology.]
I wrote last year about NSTAR’s turning off paper billing without prior consent for customers enrolled in their e-Bill program. I sent a sternly worded complaint to NSTAR about this as well as complaining to the Department of Telecommunications and Energy. Well, they’re at it again.
Here’s the complaint I just sent to NSTAR (by U.S. Mail this time, not email, to ensure that it is actually seen by the person responsible for this misguided policy) and copied to the Department of Public Utilities:
August 21, 2007
Director, Meter Reading and Billing Services
One NSTAR Way
Westwood, MA 02090
Ref: account number X
Today, I received email from NSTAR which read as follows:
Dear E-Bill Customer,Thank you for using E-Bill.As part of NSTAR’s E-Bill agreement, please note as of the next billing period, you will no longer receive your paper statements in the mail. You will, however, continue to receive an email reminder each month when your NSTAR bill(s) is ready to pay at our web site.
As always, you can still print your monthly statements from your computer for your records as well as view and print past statements.
Thank you again for using E-Bill.
Director, Meter Reading and Billing Services
What I found astounding about this is that I received a very similar email message a year ago, on August 14, 2006, which read as follows:
Dear E-Bill Customer,Thank you for using E-Bill to pay your NSTAR bill online. And now, we’re making things even easier.In an effort to reduce paper clutter in your mailbox, E-Bill is going paperless. This means, as of today, we will stop sending paper statements to you in the mail but we’ll continue to send you an email reminder when your NSTAR bill(s) is ready to pay at our web site.
And, you can still print your monthly statements from your computer for your records as well as view and print past statements.
We hope this new, convenient E-Bill feature helps you save money and time in your busy life.
Director, Billing Services
The reason why I find this so astounding is because I sent the following complaint to NSTAR after receiving the message shown above:
To whom it may concern:I recently signed up for the ‘E-Bill’ service on your Web site so that I could pay my electricity bill online. When doing so, I explicitly and intentionally did *not* opt to stop receiving paper bills. I fully wanted and intended to keep receiving paper bills.On August 14, you sent me email informing me that, without my consent, you were going to stop sending me paper bills. Your email message was bounced back to you by my spam filter, so you sent me a followup letter via U.S. Mail. At least you got that part right.
It is, quite simply, NOT ACCEPTABLE for you to stop sending people paper bills without their consent. Please do whatever you need to do to ensure that I WILL CONTINUE TO RECEIVE PAPER BILLS.
I can find nothing on your Web site to allow me to turn paper bills back on. If there’s a way to do it, you’ve done a great job of hiding it. I did, however, find some text in your ‘E-Bill FAQ’ section which explicitly contradicts the email and letter you recently sent me:
Can I use E-Bill simply to view my bill and not be required to pay online? What if I want to keep getting my paper bills?
Yes. E-Bill has replaced the former ‘Account Access’ area of our website. When you register with E-Bill, you can conveniently view your bill online, however, you are not required to choose a payment or paperless option.
You need to edit your Web site so that it doesn’t lie to customers. However, even better would be for you to go back to how things were before and keep mailing customers paper bills unless they’ve explicitly told you that they no longer wish to receive them.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see you mess up like this… I’ve already stopped using your automatic debit service because of an incident where you billed me twice for the same month and then refused to give back the extra money you stole. I never did manage to get anyone at NSTAR to acknowledge that you did anything wrong and apologize for it, nor do I really expect anyone to acknowledge that stopping my paper statements without my consent was wrong.
I’ll be sending a copy of this letter to the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy.
To reiterate what I said last year:
- It is unacceptable to turn off paper billing for people without their consent.
- Please do whatever it takes to ensure that I will continue to receive paper bills.
- Please do whatever it takes to ensure that you will never, ever turn off my paper billing again without my consent.
- I will once again be filing a complaint about this practice, with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.