Thursday, August 25, 2005

Utility customers may be saying "Charge! Charge! Charge!"

California utilities are lobbying to be able to accept credit cards as payment for your utility bills.

Southern California Edison and other utilities want ratepayers to be allowed to use their credit cards to pay their electrical, gas or water bills, opening up a potential $25 billion in frequent-flier miles (that's 500,000 frequent-flier tickets to Europe). But legislation to allow it – to be voted on by the full state Senate today – has hit fierce, last-minute opposition from credit card companies.

The issue is who should pay for the convenience of using the credit card: only the ratepayers who use credit cards, all ratepayers – whether they use the option or not,or the utilities, which can't easily pass the cost to all ratepayers.

AB746 would allow utilities to pass along part of the transactional surcharge (which averages 2 percent) to people who want to use their credit cards to pay their bills.

"When people are trying to rack up frequent-flier miles, we don't want to ask those who are low-income and paying cash to help other people pay for their trips," said Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, author of AB746.

Credit card companies oppose the bill because they fear the surcharge could steer business away from them.Card companies also fear that this legislation would open the door for other utilities, such as phone companies, to demand similar rights.