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Order CRTC 2001-690

Ottawa, 31 August 2001

Alternative formats for a person who is blind

Reference: 8620-S49-01/00

In this order, the Commission directs all Canadian carriers to make available, and to ensure that their reseller customers make available, on request, information on the rates, terms and conditions of all their retail telecommunications services in alternative format to persons who are blind.

The Commission directs all Canadian carriers to show cause why they should not ensure that non-affiliated resellers have a similar obligation to make available such information in relation to all their wireless or wireline retail telecommunications services.

The Commission also directs all Canadian carriers to show cause why they should not ensure that all resellers be obliged to make bills and bill inserts available in alternative formats.

1. In Order CRTC 2001-163, Access to Microcell's Fido-related service by persons who are blind, dated 26 February 2001, the Commission directed all Canadian carriers to show cause why the Commission should not impose, as a condition of offering and providing any telecommunications service to an end-user or to an affiliate that resells the carrier's service to an end-user, the requirement that the carrier shall make available, or ensure that the reseller make available, upon request, within a reasonable period of time and in the alternative format (i.e., braille, large print or computer diskette) requested by a person who is blind, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of the service.

2. The following carriers filed submissions: Aliant Telecom Inc., Bell Canada, Bell Mobility Cellular Inc., MTS Communications Inc., MT&T Mobility Inc., Northern Telephone Limited, NorTel Mobility Inc., Northwestel Inc., Saskatchewan Telecommunications, Télébec ltée, Télébec Mobilité inc., TELUS Communications Inc., TELUS Communications (Québec) Inc., and TELUS Mobility Cellular Inc. (collectively, the companies), Association des Compagnies de Téléphone du Québec inc. (ACTQ), Futureway Communications Inc., Ontario Telecommunications Association (OTA), Vidéotron Communications Inc., Telesat Canada, TMI Communications and Rogers Wireless Inc. (RWI).

3. ACTQ, Futureway, Vidéotron and RWI stated that they would conform to the order.

4. The companies and OTA requested certain limitations. Telesat and TMI requested complete relief.

Requests by the companies

5. The companies stated their willingness to abide by the terms of Order 2001-163 and amend their tariffs and agreements with resellers to respect the requirement of providing alternative formats on rates, terms and conditions, for blind customers. However, they stated that:

  1. they would reserve the right to restrict the choice of alternative format to computer diskette if a blind person requests an excessively large volume of information; and
  2. in the case of special promotions, the companies would provide the information in alternative format, if it is technically feasible to provide the format before the promotion expires.

6. With respect to paragraph 5 a), the Commission considers that if a client asks for information in excessively large volume (for example, on all services offered by a carrier) this could indeed amount to an unreasonable burden for a company. The Commission notes that allowing the exception for an "excessively large volume of information" would allow subscribers or potential subscribers to ask the Commission to intervene should his or her request be unreasonably denied. Accordingly, the Commission accepts the limitation proposed by the companies.

7. In the case of promotions, the Commission notes that in Order 2001-163 it concluded that not providing information on rates, terms and conditions for telecommunications services in a format that meet the needs of persons who are blind is contrary to section 27(2) of the Telecommunications Act (the Act). The Commission considers that this conclusion applies to any telecommunication service offered to end-users on a standard or promotional basis.

8. The Commission finds that it would be an undue disadvantage for blind persons not to have access to the information in question in an alternative format regarding promotions. The companies were unable to establish otherwise.

OTA's request

9. The OTA members requested relief from the obligation to provide information in braille as an alternative format because of the costs of purchasing the necessary software and equipment. This relief is sought under Telecom Decision CRTC 96-6, Regulatory framework for the independent telephone companies in Quebec and Ontario (except Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, Québec-Téléphone and Télébec ltée), dated 7 August 1996, which provides for a lighter form of regulation for small companies.

10. The Commission notes that the OTA made a similar request in the show cause proceeding leading to Telecom Order CRTC 98-626, dated 26 June 1998, which, among other things, ordered carriers to provide bill and bill inserts in alternative formats. The Commission did not grant relief to the OTA or any other carrier at the time.

11. The OTA indicated that they sought alternative agreements with subscribers who need braille. The Commission notes that Orders 98-626 and 2001-163 do not prevent any service provider from finding a mutually agreed-on arrangement. Furthermore, these orders do not oblige a service provider to purchase the equipment necessary to produce rates, terms and condition or bills and bill inserts in braille.

12. The Commission finds that the OTA has failed to justify why the obligation in question ought not to apply to its members. Therefore, the Commission denies OTA's request for an exemption.

Telesat and TMI - Request for relief

13. Telesat and TMI submitted that there is no need to impose the requirements on them. As satellite service providers, they sell to businesses or resellers; therefore, they do not have end-user customers or an affiliate that resells the carrier's service to an end-user. They stated that they saw no need to impose a formal requirement. They provided the assurance that, should a situation arise where a customer requests that billing or other service to be supplied in alternative format, they would attempt to accommodate that customer's request in a timely fashion.

14. The Commission notes TMI and Telesat's willingness to accommodate customers. The Commission finds that TMI and Telesat should be under the same requirements as other carriers to the extent that they, or an affiliated reseller, offer and provide service to an end-user.

Determinations

15. In light of the above, pursuant to section 24 of the Act, the Commission directs that all Canadian carriers, as a condition of offering and providing any telecommunications service to an end-user or to an affiliate that resells the carrier's service to an end-user, on request by a subscriber who is blind, make available, or ensure that the reseller makes available, within a reasonable period of time in braille, large print or computer diskette or such other format as is mutually agreed to by the parties, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of the service, subject to the following limitation. In the case of a request for an excessively large volume of information, such as information for multiple services that the end-user is neither leasing nor interested in, the service provider may limit the alternative format to computer diskette or any other electronic format mutually agreed to by the parties.

16. The Commission notes that this process led to a modification of requirements imposed on Bell Canada and Microcell Solutions Inc. in Order 2001-163 and Order CRTC 2001-164, Access to Bell Canada's SimplyOne by persons who are blind, dated 26 February 2001. The section 24 condition contained in this decision applies equally to all carriers, including Bell Canada and Microcell.

Further process

17. The Commission notes that Order 98-626 required all Canadian carriers to provide bills and bill inserts in alternative format on request. The Commission also notes that its conclusion (above, in paragraph 15) is directed to Canadian carriers with respect to their own retail services as well as those of the carrier's affiliates that resell services to end-users.

18. The Commission is of the preliminary view that customers who are blind should have access to the information they need regardless of the service provider. Therefore, the Commission directs:

  1. Canadian carriers to show cause within 45 days of the date of this order why, in offering and providing telecommunications services to unaffiliated resellers who provide services to end-users, they should not be subject to the following condition. The carrier must ensure that, on request of subscriber who is blind, the reseller make available, within a reasonable period of time and in braille, large print or computer diskette or such other format as is mutually agreed to by the parties, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of the service, subject to the following limitation. In the case of a request for an excessively large volume of information, such as information for multiple services that the end-user is neither leasing nor interested in, the service provider may limit the alternative format to computer diskette or any other electronic format mutually agreed to by the parties; and
  2. Canadian carriers to show cause within 45 days of the date of this order why the offering and provision of telecommunications services to resellers who provide services to end-users should not be subject to the following condition. The carrier must ensure that the reseller, upon request by a subscriber who is blind, make available, within a reasonable amount of time, in braille, large print, computer diskette or in any other alternative format agreed to between the parties, the following information:
    1. billing statements, and
    2. any bill inserts sent to subscribers about new services or changes in rates for existing services, and any bill inserts that are mandated from time to time by the Commission.

19. Any other person who wishes to comment on the above processes may do so within 45 days of the date of this order. A copy of this order will be sent to all resellers registered with the Commission.

Secretary General

This document is available in alternative format upon request and may also be examined at the following Internet site: www.crtc.gc.ca