Utility Hopes Billing Gaffe Is Water Under the Bridge

PITTSBURGH—Sometimes it only takes the slightest bit of incorrect punctuation to cause a slight headache, a dash of anger and more than a few refund checks. Just ask the good folks at Pittsburgh Water & Sewer, who ended up with irate phone calls from customers who were billed thousands of dollars in January for something that typically generates a minimal charge.

The root of the problem: the third-party firm that handles the utility company’s billing, EA Consulting, uploaded the customer data to the mailer using a European protocol, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The protocol caused commas to appear instead of decimal places, and the receiving computer did not recognize the punctuation. As a result, a bill for $50.00 was translated as $5,000. About 13,000 customers received erroneous bills.

A representative with Pittsburgh Water & Sewer told the paper that corrected bills were quickly mailed out, and that customers who paid the inflated balance would be given a refund.