Telecom Order

Ottawa, 26 June 1998
Telecom Order CRTC 98-626
Between 6 and 13 November 1997, and on 24 November 1997, the Commission received comments from the Association des compagnies de téléphone du Québec inc. (ACTQ) on behalf of Co-op de téléphone de Valcourt, La Cie de Téléphone de Courcelles Inc., La Compagnie de Téléphone de Lambton Inc., La Compagnie de Téléphone de St-Victor, La Compagnie de Téléphone Upton Inc., La Compagnie de Téléphone de Warwick, Le Téléphone de St-Liboire-de-Bagot Inc., La Corporation de Téléphone de La Baie (1993), Téléphone Guèvremont Inc., Téléphone Milot inc., Le Téléphone de St-Éphrem Inc., Compagnie Téléphone Nantes Inc. and Sogetel inc.; AT&T Canada Long Distance Services Company (AT&T Canada LDS); BC TEL Mobility; Bruce Municipal Telephone System (Bruce); the Canadian Cable Television Association on behalf of Cogeco Cable Canada Inc., Mountain Cablevision Ltd., Rogers Cablesystems Limited, Shaw FiberLink Limited, Videon CableSystems Inc., Vidéotron Télécom ltée and Western Co-axial Limited; Clearnet Communications Inc. (Clearnet); Dryden Municipal Telephone System; fONOROLA Inc.; Microcell Telecommunication Inc. (Microcell); Mobility Canada on behalf of BCE Mobile Communications Inc., TELUS Mobility Inc., Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., MT&T Mobility Inc., NewTel Mobility Limited, The Island Telephone Company Limited, Québectel Mobilité Inc., The Corporation of the City of Thunder Bay - Telephone Division, NorTel Mobilité, Northwestel Mobility Inc., Prince Rupert City Telephones and Télébec Mobilité; Northern Telephone Limited; the Ontario Telephone Association (OTA) on behalf of Abitibi-Price Inc., Amtelecom Inc., Brooke Telecom Co-operative Ltd., Cochrane Public Utilities Commission, Durham Telephones Limited, Gosfield North Communications Co-Operative Limited, Hay Communications Co-operative Limited, Hurontario Telephones Limited, Lansdowne Rural Telephone Co. Ltd., Mornington Communications Co-operative Limited, North Frontenac Telephone Co., North Norwich Telephones Ltd., North Renfrew Telephone Company Limited, Otonabee Telephones Ltd., People's Telephone Company of Forest Inc., Quadro Communications Co-operative Inc., Roxborough Telephone Company Limited, The South Bruce Rural Telephone Company Limited, Tuckersmith Communications Co-operative Limited, Westport Telephone Company Limited and Wightman Telephone Limited; Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (the telecommunications operating division of which is known as O.N. Tel); Prince Rupert City Telephones; Rogers Cantel Inc.; Stentor Resource Centre Inc. (Stentor) on behalf of BC TEL, The Island Telephone Company Limited, Maritime Tel & Tel Limited, MTS Communications Inc., The New Brunswick Telephone Company, Limited, NBTel Mobility, NewTel Communications Inc., TELUS Communications Inc., TELUS Communications (Edmonton) Inc., Québec-Téléphone, Northwestel Inc., and Télébec ltée; Telesat Canada; TELUS Cable Holdings Inc.; The Corporation of the City of Thunder Bay - Telephone Division; and Westel Telecommunications Ltd. (Westel).
File No.: 8665-C12-03/97
1. In Order 96-1191, the Commission found that the provision of billing information and bill inserts containing information on rates and services are services incidental to the business of providing telecommunications services and, accordingly, are subject to review by the Commission. The Commission found that by not providing to visually impaired subscribers upon request, billing statements and billing inserts concerning new services and rate changes for existing services in alternative formats other than Braille, Bell was unjustly discriminating against visually impaired subscribers contrary to subsection 27(2) of the Telecommunications Act (the Act). Accordingly, the Commission ordered that Bell:
a) provide to subscribers, upon request, billing statements in Braille, large print, or on computer diskette;
b) provide to subscribers, upon request, billing inserts informing subscribers about new services or changes in rates for existing services, and any bill inserts mandated from time to time by the Commission, in Braille, large print or on computer diskette;
c) provide to its visually impaired subscribers an insert in Braille advising them of the availability, upon request, of bills and billing inserts in alternative formats; and
d) file a report detailing Bell's progress in implementing the directions contained in Order 96-1191.
2. The Commission further found, in Order 96-1191, that Bell was not unjustly discriminating in relation to the provision of public pay telephones and directories. In this regard, the Commission noted that Bell was deploying state-of-the-art public pay telephones, which have features that permit greater accessibility than previous models for persons with disabilities.
3. A majority of the parties to this proceeding submitted, among other things, that the requirements in Order 96-1191 were too onerous and costly, and should not apply to them. They argued that demand for alternative billing information was low, and sometimes non-existent, and that accordingly, the requirements set out in Order 96-1191 might not be the most appropriate methods to respond to visually impaired customers' needs. Many of the parties wanted the flexibility to examine and potentially offer other formats, more suited to particular customer demands and needs. They requested additional time to examine, develop and/or implement the requirements of Order 96-1191 or other alternative formats. Some parties, such as Stentor and AT&T Canada LDS submitted, among other things, that Canadian carriers should not be subject to Order 96-1191 because it was inconsistent with the Commission's objective of retreating from regulation. The smaller independent telephone companies submitted, among other things, that they should be subject to a lighter form of regulation than that imposed by Order 96-1191, given their size and resources.
4. Most parties submitted that they were not able to provide all the alternative formats mandated by Order 96-1191. However, parties did not agree as to which format(s) was/were too onerous and/or costly. For example, Stentor, Clearnet and Westel submitted that the cost for providing information in Braille was prohibitive. AT&T Canada LDS submitted that it could only provide billing information in Braille. BC TEL Mobility considered that computer diskettes were not practical because of computer formats and related computer system incompatibilities while Microcell was only prepared to provide billing statements and inserts on diskette. ACTQ members submitted that they could only provide billing information in large print because the other alternative formats were too expensive. BC TEL Mobility and Clearnet both submitted that they would manually extract the information necessary to issue billing statements and inserts but that they could only provide them in certain alternative formats.
5. Few carriers addressed the question of whether they should be obligated to advise visually impaired customers in Braille of the availability, upon request, of billing statements and billing inserts in alternative formats. Those carriers who provided submissions on the issue indicated that they should not be required to send an insert. The ACTQ submitted that it would send an insert in Braille and large print to all its customers, on a one-time basis, to advise them of their new services and proposed to share the costs of producing and sending the inserts between its members.
6. Similarly, most Canadian carriers submitted that the Commission should not require them to file a report regarding implementation of alternative format requirements. Alternatively, they submitted that their reports should not be as detailed as Bell's and should be limited to the ongoing progress of their respective initiatives.
7. With regard to "talking" inserts and placing inserts on the Internet, most Stentor operating companies (SOCs) stated that they provide integrated voice response (IVR) systems and were providing, or evaluating the potential for provision of billing information on the Internet. SOCs also indicated that they work closely with various organizations to advise visually impaired customers of the availability of their services. Many other carriers stated that they provided IVR services or live voice telephone assistance regarding their services and rate changes or to help customers understand their bills. AT&T Canada LDS, Westel and BC TEL indicated that they were examining the feasibility of providing access to customer bills and/or bill inserts on the Internet.
8. All Canadian carriers involved in the provision of telephone directories indicated that they provide directory assistance at no charge to persons with disabilities. SOCs stated that they have or intend to have directory listing on their Internet websites while Bruce said it was negotiating potential new avenues with Tele-Direct to improve services to visually impaired customers and provide annual directories in new formats. The ACTQ mentioned that its members have a section in their directories identifying programs available to their customers with deficiencies and disabilities.
9. With regard to public pay telephones, SOCs indicated that they were deploying Millenium pay telephones. These sets have many enhancements and features that permit greater accessibility for disabled persons. Independent telephone companies did not indicate that they would replace their public pay telephones with enhanced state-of-the-art sets. The OTA stated that replacement costs would be prohibitive and preferred waiting for a decision in Local Pay Telephone Competition, Telecom Public Notice CRTC 97-26, 8 July 1997. Others submitted that they would address visually impaired customers' needs on a going-forward basis, as enhancements are required and as budgets allow.
10. The Commission finds that, by not providing to visually impaired subscribers, upon request, billing statements and billing inserts concerning new services and rate changes for existing services in alternative formats, Canadian carriers are unjustly discriminating against visually impaired subscribers, contrary to subsection 27(2) of the Act. The burden of establishing that the discrimination is not unjust is on the Canadian carriers, under subsection 27(4) of the Act.
11. The Commission notes that most Canadian carriers were concerned that the costs of providing billing information in alternative formats could be substantive and/or prohibitive. The Commission also notes that many carriers requested more flexibility and time to examine and offer formats more suited to their, and their customers' needs. The Commission notes, however, that no carrier indicated what the actual costs of providing the required billing information in alternative formats would be. Furthermore, most carriers were of the view that there would be very low demand for those services.
12. The Commission notes that, in the proceeding leading to Order 96-1191, Bell estimated that the cost per request to provide alternative format material in Braille, large print, audio cassette or computer diskette was $31. In the Commission's view, while the cost per request may vary from one carrier to the next, overall costs to carriers for providing billing information in alternative formats will not be substantial, particularly in light of the low demand for billing information in alternative formats projected by many carriers.
13. The Commission therefore finds that the provision of billing information in alternative formats is not so inconvenient and costly to cause undue hardship to Canadian carriers. Further, the Commission finds that the parties have not established that the discrimination in this case is not unjust.
14. Canadian carriers must therefore provide, upon request, billing statements and billing inserts in Braille, large print or on computer diskette. The Commission also finds that a carrier may also provide billing information in any other alternative format(s) mutually agreed upon between the carrier and its visually impaired customer.
15. The Commission agrees with the ACTQ that customers must be advised of the availability of new services. In Order 96-1191, the Commission ordered Bell to send an insert in Braille to its visually impaired subscribers and to report on other steps taken to advise them of the availability of billing information in alternative formats. The Commission notes that SOCs and carriers providing local exchange service can identify which of their customers are visually impaired because they register for free directory assistance. However, carriers who do not provide directory assistance have no practical and cost effective way to find out which of their customers are visually impaired.
16. Accordingly, the Commission orders that carriers providing directory assistance send, within 120 days of this Order, an insert in Braille advising visually impaired customers of the availability, upon request, of billing statements and billing inserts in alternative formats. In addition, the Commission will provide a summary sheet of this Order to various organizations representing and working with visually impaired persons and the elderly.
17. The Commission also notes that all Canadian carriers involved in the provision of telephone directories stated that they provide to visually impaired customers, who have registered with them, free directory assistance, when these customers are calling from their residence. Furthermore, SOCs submitted that they were either providing, or intended to provide, telephone directories on their websites. In the Commission's view, these initiatives sufficiently address the needs of visually impaired customers and do not amount to unjust discrimination.
18. With respect to public pay telephone service, the Commission considers that immediate wholesale replacement by Canadian carriers of their public pay telephones would be prohibitive at this time. The Commission considers that Canadian carriers involved in the provision of public pay telephones should be required to install sets that provide, at a minimum, certain functionalities, as set out below, when they replace or upgrade their existing sets or when they install pay telephones in new locations.
19. Furthermore, the Commission finds that, in the absence of carriers proving to the Commission that there would be undue hardship, failure to install sets with the functionalities set out below when upgrading or replacing existing sets or when installing pay telephones in new locations would constitute unjust discrimination contrary to subsection 27(2) of the Act.
20. In light of the foregoing, the Commission orders that Canadian carriers, including wireless carriers and non-dominant carriers:
a) provide to subscribers, upon request, billing statements in Braille, large print, on computer diskette, or in any other alternative format mutually agreed upon between the Canadian carrier and the subscriber;
b) provide to subscribers, upon request, bill inserts informing them about new services or changes in rates for existing services, and any bill inserts mandated from time to time by the Commission, in Braille, large print, on computer diskette, or in any other alternative format mutually agreed upon between the Canadian carrier and the subscriber; and
c) offering directory assistance, provide to their visually impaired subscribers an insert in Braille advising such subscribers of the availability, upon request, of billing statements and bill inserts in alternative formats.
21. The Commission further orders that one year after this Order comes into effect, SOCs and Independent Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers:
a) report on steps they have taken to comply with the provisions in paragraph 20 (a), (b), and (c) of this Order; and
b) report on the number of visually impaired persons who requested billing information in alternative formats.
22. The Commission further orders that 60 days after the date of this Order, Canadian carriers involved in the provision of public pay telephones who replace or upgrade their existing sets or who install pay telephones in new locations, install sets providing, at a minimum, the functionalities listed below, unless they can demonstrate that installing such pay telephones would cause undue hardship:
a) a more tactile key pad, larger buttons on the keypad spread further apart than standard sets;
b) bright, contrasting-colour coin and/or card mechanisms to make them easier to see;
c) a feature which enables the user to start the call over if an error is made;
d) a screen which displays context-sensitive dialling instructions in a larger size than can be accommodated with printed instruction cards;
e) a card-reader for a variety of telephone cards; and
f) voice prompts to assist in placing calls or using features.
Laura M. Talbot-Allan
Secretary General
This document is available in alternative format upon request.

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