Prepay Billing and Payment Option (Part 2 - Solution to Regulatory challenges in US Market)
Following on from my last blog on Regulatory challenges in US market on prepay service, I would now like to list out some of the solutions which can address the regulatory concerns.
- First of all making prepay service mandatory to all customers doesn't seem to be a feasible option. Hence it will always be an optional/voluntary agreement.
- Further to safeguard customer interests utility can choose to make certain customers like customers on life-support electric devices ineligible for this service so that knowingly also those customers won't fall into any risk.
- Then whatever collection rules currently utilities have for their postpaid customers, those can be tweaked a bit so that they go well with prepaid service as well and still safeguard the customer.
- For example, currently after a bill is generated customers normally get certain days of time for making a payment before late payment charges apply or disconnects get triggered. In prepaid service, similar to prepaid mobile phone balance alert or low gasoline indicator, sufficient number of alerts can be sent to customer whenever the prepaid balance falls below a certain level (like - balance will last another 7 days or 5 days or 3 days etc) based on the daily average usage before it gets remotely disconnected.
- On top of this, based on the utility and corresponding PUCs (Public Utility Commission) rules like special provision for severe weather conditions, low income customers, even after prepaid balance becomes nil customer might still be allowed to use electricity up to a certain level which can be adjusted from the next recharge amount. Or if required, prepay service can also be automatically converted to postpaid service with a one-time conversion fee like deposit amount.
- System can also check for spikes in energy usage -
- To detect energy theft
- To ensure that disconnects don't occur suddenly without having enough time to send the next alert
These types of details can definitely be worked out between the utility and the PUC depending on how flexible they want to be and this can geographically vary between different utilities.
The biggest problem we have is getting utilities to implement this concept. Once they deploy it, customers, utilities and PUCs will realize the benefits which are currently only on paper to them and I don't see any reason why this can't be a popular offering for both the utility and the customer.