Skip to main content

Opinion: PSC is dialed in on law protecting Marylanders from phone scams photo by A_B_C.

By William F. Fields

The writer is deputy people’s counsel at the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, an independent state agency that advocates for Maryland’s residential utility customers

The April 13 commentary “With new policy, PSC is ordering a disaster” has it wrong. The Maryland Public Service Commission’s recent decisions cracking down on retail energy suppliers who telephonically enroll customers into high-cost contracts for electricity and gas without first obtaining the customers’ signed consent has nothing to do with pizza. While the PSC’s job is vast, it has never regulated food and never will. And its recent decisions protecting ratepayers from unscrupulous retail suppliers have interpreted the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA) the same way the Maryland Attorney General has for decades — without consequence to your dinnertime pizza plans.

What the PSC does regulate, the Appellate Court of Maryland recently agreed in a case involving SmartEnergy Holdings, LLC, are calls by the suppliers it licenses to potential customers, whom the General Assembly assigned it to protect. The Appellate Court further ruled that the PSC correctly applied the MTSA to protect potential customers who call a retail energy supplier in response to an advertisement, not just those who receive cold calls from retail suppliers. This reading is based on the plain language of the MTSA, and all four Maryland judges — one circuit court judge and all three of the judges of the Appellate Court — who have heard the case agreed with the PSC’s interpretation of the law.

The reading of the law by the PSC, judges, and Office of Attorney General is reinforced by the fact that the MTSA includes a provision that states that if an advertisement meets certain criteria, the law does not apply to a call placed by a customer because of that advertisement. If the law never applied to calls placed by customers, this provision would make no sense. This exception — and other exceptions also included in the law — allows merchants to comply with the law without the “devastating” interference with commerce claimed in the commentary. In other words, other exceptions apply to carryout calls; no reason to worry.

The MTSA and the correct interpretation of it are important. The judges who have reviewed the case underlying this legal issue have all also agreed with the Commission that the evidence showed that a retail electricity supplier, SmartEnergy, engaged in a mass mailing and telemarketing campaign designed to deceive Maryland customers and mislead them into switching their electric service to SmartEnergy, resulting in customers paying more for their electricity instead of reaping the savings promised by SmartEnergy. The law’s requirement of a signed written agreement, if followed, would have prevented much of the harm caused by this company’s scheme.

The appeals in this case have, unfortunately, resulted in a delay in the refunds that the PSC ordered SmartEnergy to pay. The refunds would compensate customers for charges above the utility rate. More than two years ago, SmartEnergy told a court that the excess charges were over $6 million. SmartEnergy has been allowed to continue to collect charges from Maryland customers during this appeal, so the excess charges are likely much more than $6 million now.

The bottom line is that the PSC has interpreted the MTSA correctly, and that interpretation provides an important protection for Maryland customers. So go ahead: have pizza for dinner. No one’s trying to stop that.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Opinion: PSC is dialed in on law protecting Marylanders from phone scams