ARCHIVED -  Telecom Decision CRTC 92-7

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Telecom Decision

Ottawa, 4 May 1992
Telecom Decision CRTC 92-7
In Bell Canada - Introduction of Call Management Service, CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1989-57,17 November 1989 (Public Notice 1989-57), the Commission invited comment on an application by Bell Canada (Bell) to introduce Call Management Service (CMS). CMS provides customers with a number of network control features based on the identification of an originating telephone number. One of the available features, Calling Number Identification (Caller ID), provides CMS subscribers with suitably equipped telephones with the originating telephone number of an incoming call.
In the proceeding established in Public Notice 1989-57, many benefits were attributed to Caller ID, particularly a reduction in the number of annoying, harassing or obscene calls received by subscribers. However, several groups and individuals raised concerns about the impact that this feature would have on the privacy of parties placing calls. For example, several participants in the proceeding questioned the appropriateness of releasing non-published telephone numbers, given that subscribers pay a monthly charge to maintain the privacy of their numbers. Serious concerns were also raised regarding the personal safety of individuals such as battered women and children who could possibly be tracked by their abusers through Caller ID.
In Bell Canada - Introduction of Call Management Service, Telecom Decision CRTC 90-10, 9 May 1990 (Decision 90-10), the Commission concluded that approval of CMS was in the public interest. However, the Commission's decision was predicated on Bell's provision of a form of Caller ID blocking. Specifically, the Commission directed that Bell provide local operator assisted dialing (LOADS), whereby transmission of the calling party's telephone number would be blocked, for a charge, on a per-call basis. When a caller places a call through the operator, the telephone company keeps a confidential record of the calling and called parties' telephone numbers. This record removes the concern that a harassing caller could use Caller ID blocking as a way to remain anonymous, thus reducing the value of Caller ID to subscribers. In Decision 90-10, the Commission directed Bell to waive the LOADS charges to certified shelters for victims of domestic violence.
The Commission subsequently received applications to review and vary Decision 90-10 pursuant to section 66 of the National Telecommunications Powers and Procedures Act. The Commission denied those applications in Introduction by Bell Canada of Call Management Service - Applications to Review and Vary, Telecom Decision CRTC 1991-4, dated 7 March 1991 (Decision 91-4). However, in Decision 91-4, the Commission noted that groups or individuals other than certified shelters might be able to obtain free Caller ID blocking, if they had an equally compelling need.
Following the issuing of Decision 90-10, the Commission received applications from British Columbia Telephone Company (B.C. Tel), The New Brunswick Telephone Company Limited (NBTel) and Newfoundland Telephone Company Limited (Newfoundland Tel) to introduce CMS on a permanent basis. The Commission also received an application from Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company Limited (MT&T) to conduct a market trial for CMS. The Commission issued an Order granting MT&T final approval for a market trial to be conducted over the period 30 January 1992 to 31 December 1992. The Commission also issued Orders granting interim approval to the other applications, and issued Public Notices requesting comment prior to making final determinations with respect to those applications (see CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1991-13, 11 March 1991, CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1991-22, 23 April 1991, CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1991-23, 23 April 1991, and CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1991-38, 29 May 1991). Pursuant to the Commission's Orders, B.C. Tel, Newfoundland Tel and MT&T currently offer CMS in conjunction with Caller ID blocking under terms and conditions similar to those prescribed in Decision 90-10. Blocking is provided through the use of LOADS, with charges ranging from $0.75 to $1.00 per call. NBTel blocks transmission of all non-published numbers, rather than providing per-call blocking through an operator.
AGT Limited (AGT) introduced CMS in February 1990, while still regulated by the Public Utilities Board of Alberta. AGT currently provides free per-call and per-line blocking, and charges for Call Trace on a per-activation basis. The other telephone companies discussed above offer or propose to offer Call Trace at a flat monthly rate.
Following its initial application for the introduction of CMS, B.C. Tel submitted an application for the provision of free per-line blocking to certified shelters for victims of domestic violence. The Commission granted this application interim approval and issued a Public Notice with respect to it (see CRTC Telecom Public Notice 1991-30, 10 May 1991). B.C. Tel also filed applications to introduce additional forms of Caller ID blocking, specifically, One-way Outgoing Line and Alternate Number Display (AND). One-way Outgoing Line blocking would restrict an individual line to outgoing calls only. AND would deliver a unique seven-digit number that is different from the actual telephone number from which the call was placed. With either form of blocking, attempts to return calls to the displayed number would be diverted to a recording that would inform the caller that the number dialed cannot be reached.
Bell also submitted applications to introduce additional forms of Caller ID blocking. Specifically, Bell proposed to provide AND, One-way Outgoing Line, and Number Replacement. Number Replacement would require the subscriber to have two lines. While calls could be placed over both lines, the number of only one of the lines would be displayed; the other number would never be provided.
The Commission also received applications from St. Basil's Social Action Committee (dated 30 April 1991), West End Interfaith Social Action Group (dated 6 May 1991), and from a number of doctors requesting waivers of the charges for using operator-assisted blocking in Bell's territory, as provided in Decision 91-4.
In response to the Public Notices issued in connection with B.C. Tel's applications, the Commission received comments from more than 1300 interested parties. Of these, almost all parties voiced some opposition to, or concern with, the introduction of CMS. Specific concerns were identified with respect to the impact of Caller ID. In particular, interested parties expressed their concerns regarding the loss of privacy and confidentiality, the cost to the customer of using LOADS, telemarketing, the risk for victims of domestic violence and the diminished value of non-published numbers.
On 8 October 1991, the Commission addressed questions to AGT, Bell, B.C. Tel, MT&T, NBTel and Newfoundland Tel with respect to CMS. The Commission noted that, during the proceedings that followed the issuing of Decision 90-10, it had obtained additional information on a number of issues related to CMS. The Commission stated that this information suggested that it might be possible to introduce alternative blocking mechanisms to LOADS that would better address the privacy concerns of calling parties, without significantly increasing the costs of CMS or diminishing its value in preventing unwanted calls. The Commission noted that the mechanisms it wished to examined included non-published number blocking, AND and free per-call and per-line blocking. The Commission asked the companies to discuss the provision of each of these options, in combination with Call Trace on a per-activation basis, either universally or on-demand. Universal provision would enable any subscriber to whom the telephone company is technically capable of providing CMS to make use of a blocking option or Call Trace at any time without making any prior arrangements with the company. Provision on-demand would require that the customer first request that the line be enabled. The Commission also requested information on software availability, billing modifications, switch memory capacity and the impact of the various blocking options on the privacy concerns of subscribers and on the value of CMS generally.
The companies stated that the ability to provide per-call or per-line automated blocking, blocking of non-published numbers and AND is included in the basic CMS software package. While this software package is fully functional on all digital switches, the provision of the service from non-digital switches may be limited. For example, the adjunct developed by Bell to transmit the calling number from SP-1 or ESS switch technology currently supports per-line blocking, but does not support per-call blocking. Bell stated that SP-1 switches could be modified to provide per-call blocking for an additional cost.
The companies noted that there would be costs and administrative problems associated with providing a free blocking option on demand and with charging subscribers for Call Trace on a per-activation basis. The companies stated that manual billing would be required until enhancements could be made to their billing systems. Some of the companies indicated that the blocking options described in the Commission's questions would have a considerable impact on each digital switch's Central Processing Unit (CPU) capacity.
Bell, B.C. Tel and MT&T favoured LOADS as a blocking mechanism. They submitted that LOADS has a negligible impact on the value of CMS and strikes the appropriate balance between the privacy interests of the calling and called parties. Newfoundland Tel contended that a per-call blocking mechanism using the CMS software rather than an operator would be more convenient, more economical and faster than LOADS.
Bell and B.C. Tel supported the provision of AND in addition to LOADS in order to meet the needs of those customers with more than an occasional requirement for Caller ID blocking. Both companies offered to provide this service free to shelters for victims of domestic violence. However, MT&T stated that AND is fundamentally inconsistent with the CMS software. MT&T and Newfoundland Tel noted that AND does not allow the called party to know that transmission of the originating number is being blocked. Newfoundland Tel further stated that the provision of AND would increase its administrative costs.
Bell and B.C. Tel submitted that the blocking of all non-published numbers would significantly reduce the functionality and, by extension, the viability of CMS. They also noted that not all subscribers with non-published numbers may wish to have their numbers blocked. MT&T agreed with this position. B.C. Tel contended that subscription to a non-published number does not carry with it the right to call others on an anonymous basis.
Bell, B.C. Tel, MT&T and Newfoundland Tel submitted that provision of free per-call or per-line automated blocking would reduce the benefits of CMS. Bell argued that demand for CMS would decline as a result. MT&T submitted that the viability of CMS would become marginal if 20% of calls were blocked. Newfoundland Tel was of the view that per-call blocking would have less of a negative impact than per-line blocking. Newfoundland Tel proposed that per-call blocking be provided as a CMS feature at current rates.
AGT, which provides free per-call and per-line blocking, filed information indicating that less than 0.2% of customers make use of per-call blocking, while less than 0.04% of customers use per-line blocking.
Bell stated that offering Call Trace with any form of free automated blocking is not a viable alternative, because it would diminish the ability to protect the privacy of the called party. B.C. Tel submitted that there is no demand for changing Call Trace as it is now offered. MT&T stated that to offer Call Trace on a per-activation basis would increase potential conflicts between the subscriber who activates the feature and the company, because the subscriber may question the value received if the results of the trace are not clear. Newfoundland Tel proposed that Call Trace be offered to customers who request it and that, while no monthly rate would apply, the customer be charged each time Call Trace was activated.
In Decision 90-10, the Commission considered the impact of CMS on the privacy of subscribers from the perspective of both the called and the calling party. The Commission determined that a net benefit would be achieved from the introduction of CMS. However, the Commission's determination was predicated on the requirement that a form of Caller ID blocking be made available. Of the options then before it, the Commission determined that LOADS, charged on a per-call basis, was the most appropriate. The Commission was of the view that LOADS would significantly reduce, although not eliminate, the potential difficulties associated with CMS, while permitting retention of the significant benefits.
Since its introduction in Bell's territory, CMS has provided benefits to subscribers, as anticipated in Decision 90-10. For example, reports filed by Bell pursuant to Decision 90-10 indicate that, in Ottawa and Quebec City where CMS was introduced in June 1990, the number of annoying, harassing, or obscene calls has been reduced by more than 75%. B.C. Tel and NBTel noted in this proceeding that CMS has delivered benefits such as a reduction in the number of harassing calls. However, in connection with the applications before it and in relation to CMS in general, the Commission has received numerous letters and comments expressing concerns about the loss of privacy associated with CMS and the cost to the subscriber of Caller ID blocking. A number of legitimate reasons were raised for which subscribers might wish to remain anonymous. Most particularly, concerns were raised about subscribers whose safety may be at risk (for example, battered women, social workers, law enforcement officers).
Furthermore, since CMS was introduced in Bell territory, additional Caller ID blocking mechanisms have become available and are now before the Commission. In the Commission's view, these alternate forms of Caller ID blocking may address concerns raised with respect to the loss of privacy associated with CMS and to the cost to the subscriber of significant use of per-call blocking.
In light of the applications before it, the availability of new means of providing Caller ID blocking, AGT's evidence with respect to take rates for free blocking, and the comments it has received with respect to CMS, the Commission considers it appropriate to examine whether LOADS remains the most appropriate mechanism for achieving a balance between the interests of the called and the calling party. In conducting that examination, the Commission remains mindful of the benefits afforded by CMS and considers that any alternate Caller ID blocking mechanism should not diminish the value of CMS by permitting harassing callers to use Caller ID blocking in order to remain anonymous. In addition, the Commission considers it appropriate to take into account the extent to which subscribers should be required to pay to maintain their anonymity as a result of the introduction of new technology (i.e., CMS), where the means exist to maintain privacy in a way that does not compromise the interests of called parties. Furthermore, the Commission considers that any alternate blocking mechanism should not result in the incurring of significantly increased costs that would have to be passed on to the general body of subscribers.
As to the associated costs, the Commission notes that the software required to provide the different blocking options is readily available and generally included in the companies' existing CMS software package. The costs associated with making the software modifications necessary to implement the various blocking options are therefore not expected to be substantial.
The companies submitted that some of the options canvassed in this proceeding would have a considerable impact on each digital switch's CPU capacity. However, based on the record of the proceeding, the Commission considers that the costs associated with any additional switch memory capacity would depend to a large degree on whether Call Trace capability is provided to all subscribers where CMS is available, or only when a customer specifically requests it.
The companies indicated that there would be service order processing costs if blocking options were offered on demand, as opposed to universally. These service order costs would depend on the number of customers who requested a blocking option. The Commission notes that neither Bell nor B.C. Tel provided any basis for their assumptions concerning the likely take rates for free per-call and per-line blocking on demand. The Commission notes further that, in AGT's territory, the provision of free per-call and per-line blocking has not resulted in high take rates. In these circumstances, the Commission considers that the costs identified by Bell and B.C. Tel for the provision of blocking on demand may well have been based on overesti- mated take rates. Accordingly, the Commission is of the view that the cost of providing free per-call or per-line blocking on a customer-request basis are likely to be significantly less than forecasted by Bell and B.C. Tel.
On the basis of the above, the Commission concludes that some form of free Caller ID blocking could be offered without incurring significant costs that would have to be absorbed by the general body of subscribers. Furthermore, the Commission notes that LOADS can be expensive for the individual subscriber if used frequently.
Bell, B.C. Tel, MT&T and Newfoundland Tel were of the view that introducing non-published number blocking, per-call or per-line blocking at no charge (in combination with universally provided Call Trace) would significantly erode the value and functionality of CMS. This position appears to be based on an assumption that such blocking mechanisms would be used so widely as to render the Caller ID feature worthless. However, the companies have provided little, if any, evidence in support of their view. Furthermore, information submitted by AGT indicates that customer usage of free blocking would not be so extensive as to significantly affect the value of CMS.
In light of the above, the Commission concludes that some form of free Caller ID blocking would more appropriately achieve the balance sought in Decision 90-10. Of the options now available, AND, per-line blocking and non-published number blocking, because they would automatically block all calls made, would deliver a greater level of blocking than may be required by many subscribers. Moreover, the provision of free per-line blocking for subscribers with non-published numbers would not address the needs of customers who are unwilling or unable to pay for the non-published number service. In addition, the estimated costs of providing per-line blocking are greater than the costs of providing per-call blocking. Taking these factors into account, the Commission is of the view that free per-call blocking is the most appropriate mechanism by which to balance the interests of the called and calling parties.
The Commission notes Bell's submissions that per-call blocking is not currently available on SP-1 and ESS switches. Until per-call blocking is available to customers served by such switches, Bell should provide free per-line blocking to any such customers who request Caller ID blocking. In addition, the Commission is of the view that certified shelters for victims of domestic violence have an ongoing need for blocking on all calls. Therefore, all companies should provide free per-line blocking to such shelters.
In light of the costs entailed, the companies should not be required to provide free per-line blocking in circumstances other than those noted above; nor should the companies be required to provide other blocking options (AND, One-way outgoing Line, Number Replacement, or non-published number) free of charge.
The Commission notes that, other than AGT, the telephone companies currently charge a flat monthly rate for Call Trace capability, regardless of whether or not the customer ever uses it. The Commission considers that, if Caller ID blocking is to be provided free of charge, better access to Call Trace is necessary in order to provide a disincentive to those who would make harassing or annoying telephone calls and to preserve the benefits to be derived from CMS. In the Commission's view, charging for Call Trace on a flat monthly basis provides a sufficient barrier to the use of Call Trace as to diminish the overall benefits of CMS. Accordingly, the Commission concludes that the most effective way of providing Call Trace at a reasonable cost would be to charge the customer on a per-activation basis, rather than on the basis of a flat monthly rate.
As noted above, the record of the proceeding indicates that the costs associated with additional switch memory capacity would depend primarily on whether Call Trace capability is provided to all customers to whom the company can provide CMS without the need to make prior arrangements with the company, or only when the customer specifically requests it. In the Commission's view, the costs associated with the former are significant. However, information filed by AGT leads to the conclusion that demand for Call Trace capability on demand would not be significant. Therefore, the costs of providing CMS, if the customer were required to specifically request that the line be enabled, are likely to be considerably less.
The companies submitted that the provision of Call Trace on a per-activation basis would entail additional costs, because billing systems would have to be enhanced and, in the interim, billing would have to be handled manually. The Commission notes that, while the billing system enhancements would require some expenditures, the cost of providing a manual system in the interim would depend on the take rate for Call Trace. Assuming the use of Call Trace is as suggested by the experience of AGT, the Commission anticipates that the cost of providing a manual billing function, until the time that automated forms of billing are available, would not be substantial.
In light of these factors, the Commission considers it sufficient that the companies provide Call Trace capability only on the request of the customer. Charges for Call Trace should apply only when the feature is used by the customer. That charge should be established so as to discourage the abuse of Call Trace and recover some of the costs of providing the feature, including billing costs, while reflecting the perceived value of the service. However, there should be no charge associated with requesting that a line be enabled for Call Trace. Given the low proportion of subscribers expected to require Call Trace, this method of providing the capability is not expected to place an unreasonable cost burden on the general body of subscribers.
In summary, the Commission is of the view that the provision of per-call automated blocking free to those subscribers who so request it, with Call Trace available on a per-activation basis, as described above, would allow subscribers to maintain the level of privacy they perceive necessary without the burden of incurring a charge to do so. Furthermore, the Commission considers that the implementation and delivery of these services is unlikely to require an unreasonable level of expenditure by the companies and should not affect the value of CMS.
The Commission, therefore, directs Bell, B.C. Tel, MT&T, Newfoundland Tel and NBTel to file, by 1 June 1992, proposed tariffs providing, as a minimum, free per-call automated blocking to customers who request it. The proposed tariffs should specify that, where the provision of per-call blocking is limited for technical reasons, as in the case of Bell's SP-1 and ESS switches, subscribers requesting Caller ID blocking will be offered the option of receiving per-line blocking, if feasible, until such time as per-call blocking becomes available. The Commission further directs that the proposed tariffs make Call Trace capability available to customers upon request, and that they stipulate that the charge for Call Trace will apply only when the feature is used by the customer. In filing the proposed tariffs, the telephone companies are asked to comment on a method of informing customers of these changes to Call Trace and to the blocking mechanism, such as billing inserts and the inclusion of information in the telephone directory. Finally, the Commission directs Bell, B.C. Tel, MT&T, Newfoundland Tel and NBTel to make available free per-line blocking to certified shelters for victims of domestic violence.
The Commission will consider approval of B.C. Tel Tariff Notice 2406 and Bell Tariff Notices 3950, 3950A and 3950B, which propose various Caller ID blocking options, upon notification from the companies that they wish to proceed with these applications.
In the Commission's view, this Decision addresses the concerns of St. Basil's Social Action Committee, West End Interfaith Social Action Group and of various doctors who filed applications seeking a waiver of the charges for using LOADS in Bell territory. Accordingly, the Commission finds that no further action is required with respect to those applications.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General

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