MLGW chief: Software problem caused payment complaints for thousands

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — MLGW President and CEO Jerry Collins on Monday said more than 20,000 customers hoping to get assistance on their utility bills were affected by a software problem that caused long lines and frustrations at some utility payment centers this weekend.

About 150 of the 300 or so payment kiosks operated at gas stations and convenience stores by TIO Networks, a private company, were affected by the glitch, Collins said.

The problem caused bills to be off by a factor of 100, meaning that if a person paid $5 toward a balance of $500, it looked like their balance was near $0.

The situation grew worse Saturday morning when someone posted a rumor on social media linking the payment problem to a donation by Grizzlies player Zach Randolph to assist residents with bill payments, but that donation never happened.

MLGW began noticing the software problem Thursday evening, Collins said.

“Staff felt like it was just an isolated problem with one or two kiosks," explained Collins.

They turned in a work order but then Saturday morning they realized all the TIO Network kiosks were affected.

Affected payment kiosks were disabled so they could not access MLGW accounts Saturday and Collins wasn't sure when they'd be running again.

The utility has been doing business with TIO Networks for about 10 years without a problem, Collins said.

The number of customers affected could grow as the utility looks over more files, Collins said.

Collins said MLGW's system was not compromised or hacked and no one suffered financial harm from the problem. He also dismissed concerns in the community that the problem was related to the one-year anniversary of the Black Lives Matter protest that shut down the Interstate 40 bridge.

“The lesson learned is two fold. When staff finds a problem even if they think it’s an isolated problem they ought to run it up the chain of command so that we can let everyone know and make sure their thinking is sound," he said.

The other lesson is the power of social media and he’s grateful the problem was detected quickly.

Monday, MLGW extended hours at its offices to accept payments from customers until 7 p.m. Officials on Monday afternoon had not decided whether the extended hours would continue Tuesday.