Tuesday, September 14, 2010

F. P. & L. is Scandalous

Florida Power and Light requires a deposit to turn on your electricity. On their website, FPL explains that unlike most businesses which are cash upon liking (I paraphrase of course, but any excuse to use the phrase “cash upon liking”), poor old FPL gives their product away for a month before asking for payment. Since they run on a three-week billing cycle, that’s seven weeks of service before they see a dime. If you’re assessed as a high-risk client, they look at the average bill for two months service at your address, then they require you to fork it over.

In our case, that was $400 to have our lights turned on. Remember when I said who gives a shit about my credit rating? Well, this is a fine example of why it’s a good idea to have decent credit. I was wrong, and my words taste bitter.

So wait, aren’t we paying in advance for something we haven’t used? Multi-billion dollar monopoly FPL whines about the equation in reverse, but if I want to store food and not die of heat stroke, I’ve got no choice but to shut up and pay.

I’m sure FPL has been burned. So what? They always manage to turn a profit, even when people go for weeks without power in the wake of various hurricanes. Their rates remain high while they promise that second power plant which will reduce our bills once and for all.

It’s not ironic that the segment of the population least-equipped to pay is the one hardest hit by these deposits, it’s increasingly typical of American culture. Google “Florida Power and Light” with “deposit” and you’ll bring up FPL’s website and a couple thousand complaints about the practice, which is no surprise. However, the backlash in the comments section of these articles and posts is disturbing. Even allowing for trolls, there’s a prevailing sentiment of “you’re a deadbeat who fucked up your credit; quit whining.” Maybe I’m reading too much into these websites. The internets are filled with crazed morons.

Not us, of course.

I’m debt-free. I got in credit card trouble a long while back but I took care of it, and without declaring bankruptcy. I’ve been a renter for eighteen years in three states and I’ve never defaulted on a lease, skipped out on a utility charge, or left a bill unpaid. And apparently, my credit sucks.

FPL is just being cautious (and getting capital for investments, of course). They pay the deposit back if you ask them nicely after twenty-three months of consecutive, timely payment, so why am I whining about being labeled a deadbeat?

Well, if you pay late, they hold the deposit indefinitely. Glory of glories, they also hit you with more deposit fees for being late. Suppose I need to wait for a paycheck to pay my bill because I didn’t have the funds. Even though my service was not actually interrupted, I’ll have to pay an additional “deposit” in the neighborhood of $60-$80 (not to mention a 1.5% late fee) on top of the monthly service bill. That should make it easier to pay.

I was shocked to find out about this practice. So is everyone I’ve told. The question I hear every time is, “Can they do that?” Of course they can, and they are.

It’s not like you can choose the other power company down the street.

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