- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2011

A track record of frequent, sustained power outages and persistent customer complaints have made Pepco the most-hated company in America, a report shows.

The much-maligned energy provider to the District and some of its Maryland suburbs ranked dead last in customer satisfaction, topping Comcast, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., UnitedHealth Group and American Airlines based on findings from the American Customer Satisfaction Index group.

The findings — from customer interviews and reported recently by the website Business Insider — ranked the regional utility “ahead” of several nationally known banks, airlines and social networking sites that often catch heat from customers complaining about poor service, high prices and privacy intrusions.

“For any utility that’s scoring low … it’s generally about rates and reliability,” said ACSI managing director David VanAmburg.

ACSI rates companies on a 100-point scale, using a mathematical model that takes into account customer expectations, complaints, loyalty and other factors to determine overall satisfaction.

Pepco, which frequently ranks among the country’s worst utilities in the frequency and duration of outages, scored 54 out of 100 — the lowest of 19 companies listed in Business Insider’s report.

It was one of four utilities on the list, joined by the Long Island Power Authority, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric. They ranked the 12th, 13th and 16th worst because of complaints such as price gouging and negligence in monitoring gas leaks.

Pepco also has become a favorite target of area lawmakers, who have criticized the company’s perceived lack of commitment to improving its performance.

The Maryland General Assembly enacted a law this year requiring the state Public Service Commission to impose stricter reliability standards and potentially fine providers for poor service or unreasonably long outages.

The D.C. Council followed suit this month by passing a bill that allows its Public Service Commission to set new standards.

Maryland Sen. James C. Rosapepe, Prince George’s Democrat, said dissatisfaction with Pepco has been compounded in recent years by rate hikes that have not led to better service.

“People are incredibly frustrated, and they have a right to be,” he said. “It’s as though you go to a restaurant and pay the bill, and they don’t serve you dinner.”

Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said the company, which serves 778,000 households in the District and Maryland, has begun a five-year, $500 million effort to improve infrastructure and service. He said the company has started replacing underground wires and removing trees that interfere with power lines.

“We at Pepco know we have work to do and we’re doing it every day,” the company said in a statement. “For us to be distracted by this kind of sensationalism would be counterproductive.”

The Business Insider list also included six telecommunications companies, four airlines, two banks, two social networking sites and one health care provider.

All four airlines ranked among the eight most-hated companies. They were led by overall runner-up Delta Air Lines, which was cited for customers’ negative reactions to its industry-leading baggage fees and extra costs on food and beverages.

Communications giants Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Charter Communications rounded out the “top” five because of their rates, spotty service and wait times for technicians.

Mr. VanAmburg said most of the companies on the list shared a common trait as leaders in industries that offer few choices.

In many industries, “It’s easy to switch from one brand to another if you’re dissatisfied,” he said. “But with utilities, they are really the only game in town.”

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