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3 ways to dispute utility bills, cable bills
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"Most consumers don't know this, but they can call their local franchising cable board. That's the agency that has the ability and authority to adjudicate public complaints," says Johnson.

Not all municipalities or towns have a cable board. So, try calling the clerk of the county or clerk of the city in your area to find out who is responsible for cable complaints.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the information technology department has a direct link to Comcast as a franchise authority, says spokeswoman Diana Scott.

"We have a special line established," Scott says. "We get the person's information, we document it and that information is sent to a specific person at Comcast. Then Comcast contacts us with the resolution."

A visit to the attorney general's office may or may not help. The procedure for handling complaints varies with each office. Some offices, depending on the type of utility, might refer you to other state regulators, and others may attempt to mediate the dispute between you and the company themselves.

3. Try national and federal organizations.
Consumers can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or BBB, a private nonprofit organization that monitors and reports marketplace activities to the public. The bureau sends the consumer's complaints to the company.

"If we have not heard from the company in 30 days, we close the case and suggest small claims court," says spokeswoman Sheila Adkins.

According to the BBB, it cannot force a reply from the company and it cannot administer sanctions. It can make a note of the company's unwillingness to respond in the company's reliability report that's provided to the public.

The U.S. government can tackle some of your problems.

Telecommunications issues can be handled by contacting the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.

Consumers can file an informal complaint with the FCC and, if determined appropriate, the commission will send the complaint to the company or companies named. The FCC allows telephone companies only 45 days from receiving the complaint to respond to you and to provide a copy to the commission. The FCC reviews the response but doesn't issue a ruling or decision.

If the company's response doesn't satisfy you, you can make a formal complaint. This will involve hiring a lawyer and paying a complaint fee of $180. File this type of dispute within six months of receiving the response to the informal complaint.

Consumers can also contact the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, but the FTC's help depends on the circumstances. According to spokesman Mitch Katz, the FTC only gets involved if a charge the consumer did not authorize is placed on the bill.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Oct. 25, 2006
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