Telecom Order

Ottawa, 29 October 1996
Telecom Order CRTC 96-1191
Reference: 95-1172
WHEREAS, by letter dated 23 October 1995, the Starks filed an application pursuant to the CRTC Telecommunications Rules of Procedure requesting an Order directing Bell to provide all customer mailings in an alternative electronic format to customers who request them;
WHEREAS Bell filed its answer by letter dated 27 November 1995;
WHEREAS the Starks filed their reply by letter dated 1 December 1995;
WHEREAS Commission staff addressed interrogatories to Bell in December 1995 and March of 1996;
WHEREAS the Starks filed additional reply in response to Bell's answers to those interrogatories;
WHEREAS Bell filed a report in respect of its progress in making its material available in alternate formats by letter dated 28 June 1996;
WHEREAS the Starks filed their final reply by letter dated 7 July 1996;
WHEREAS the Commission has carefully considered all of the submissions filed in this proceeding, some of which are specifically addressed below;
WHEREAS the Starks submitted, among other things, that Bell's failure to provide written materials in alternate formats, such as billing inserts, is contrary to the policy objectives set out in section 7 of the Telecommunications Act (the Act) as well as section 27 of the Act, in that it unjustly discriminates in favour of and confers an undue preference on sighted subscribers and customers;
WHEREAS the Starks stated that their inability to access the numerous company-related printed materials disadvantages them in their ability to receive the same benefits from telecommunications services as other subscribers and customers;
WHEREAS the Starks submitted that Bell has, on numerous occasions, indicated that it is studying alternate formats for the provision of its printed information but that such studies have been unreasonably delayed and have not resulted in the provision of services required by the Starks;
WHEREAS the Starks also specifically noted their difficulty in using public pay telephones and their inability to obtain telephone directories in a format useable to them without additional cost;
WHEREAS, in its answer, Bell stated that it had a number of initiatives underway, including a study to determine the feasibility of producing company-related information in an alternative electronic format legible to blind and vision impaired subscribers and customers;
WHEREAS Bell submitted that the provision of printed material referred to by the Starks does not constitute a telecommunications service and thus, section 27 of the Act does not apply to such information;
WHEREAS Bell stated that it had conducted a three-month trial of providing selected materials through its Special Needs Centre which concluded on 31 August 1995;
WHEREAS Bell stated that despite being advertised on the Canadian National Institute for the Blind information line and through short information messages on customer bills, only 127 requests were received for alternate format materials in Braille, large print, audio cassette and computer diskette;
WHEREAS Bell also stated that it had implemented in Ontario in 1995, and planned to implement in Quebec in 1996, a voice response service called Billing Express that is intended to provide a means for residential subscribers to access account information by telephone;
WHEREAS Bell stated that Billing Express provides only current balance, billing date, mailing date and a listing of the last three payments or adjustments;
WHEREAS Bell stated that itemized billing is available indirectly through the use of the "0" dialing option which routes calls to a client representative who will provide full account details;
WHEREAS, in a report filed with the Commission dated 28 June 1996, Bell stated that it will provide supplementary account statements and supplementary account inserts in Braille beginning in November of 1996 to subscribers who request them;
WHEREAS Bell also stated that it would conduct a survey beginning in September to determine preferences and levels of interest on alternate formats, including "talking" versions of the account inserts and text versions of the account inserts to be available through the Internet;
WHEREAS with respect to public pay telephones, Bell submitted that it has converted one-half of its public telephone sets to models which offer voice prompts, larger keys and greater spacing between keys;
WHEREAS Bell stated that these enhancements make its public pay telephones more accessible to disabled persons;
WHEREAS, in reply, the Starks submitted that only one voice prompt was available, that other instructions and prompts are visually displayed and that larger key size and extra spacing are of little assistance to blind or visually impaired persons, though they may be useful for people with other disabilities;
WHEREAS Bell in response to interrogatories, provided information about numerous voice prompts available on the converted public pay telephones deployed, but acknowledged discovering that there is a 4.5 second delay in initiating voice prompts once the receiver goes off-hook;
WHEREAS Bell stated that it would reduce the delay to 2 seconds by 1 April 1996;
WHEREAS Bell also stated that the public pay telephones it currently is deploying will be enhanced to address the needs of the vision impaired through more tactile card readers, a tactile chip card and colour contrasted coin slots;
WHEREAS, with respect to directories, Bell provided information from Tele-Direct (Publications) Inc. (Tele-Direct) relating to two free services it offers that might assist the blind and visually impaired: (1) Talking Yellow Pages and (2) Yellow Pages Assistance;
WHEREAS Bell also indicated that Tele-Direct was currently engaged in testing voice recognition technology and also noted that there is a province-wide directory on CD-ROM available for $99.95;
WHEREAS, in reply, the Starks submitted that Talking Yellow Pages is a distinct service from the printed Yellow Pages and does not provide the same information;
WHEREAS the Starks also submitted that Yellow Pages Assistance is unavailable in Ottawa-Hull and that the commercially available CD-ROM directory is quite distinct from the White and Yellow Pages Directories provided without additional charge to other telephone subscribers;
WHEREAS Bell acknowledged that Yellow Pages Assistance is only directly available in Montréal and Toronto, but, upon request, a visually impaired person could be provided with a toll-free number through 411 to reach Yellow Pages Assistance;
WHEREAS the Commission does not agree with Bell that the provision of billing information and bill inserts containing information on rates and services is not contemplated by subsection 27(2) of the Act;
WHEREAS the Commission finds that these services are incidental to the business of providing telecommunications services and, accordingly, are subject to review by the Commission;
WHEREAS the Commission notes that Bell will have in place beginning in November 1996 supplementary account statements in Braille for subscribers and customers who request them and also notes that other services either implemented by Bell or in the development stage will permit statement of account balance and detailed billing information, either through voice synthesis technology or by dialing "0" to contact a company client representative;
WHEREAS the Commission considers that Bell has not adequately justified its refusal to provide billing information by way of either large print bills or computer diskettes in order that visually impaired subscribers can access that information;
WHEREAS, based on the evidence provided, the Commission considers that audio cassette is an inappropriate medium for delivering billing information because of its size and difficulty in use;
WHEREAS, in the Commission's view, Bell's implementation of supplementary billing inserts in Braille format will provide greater access as will its exploration of utilizing "talking" inserts and placing inserts on the Internet;
WHEREAS the Commission considers that of all the various types of billing inserts, those which advise subscribers of the introduction of new services and changes to rates for existing services are among the most important, and that all subscribers should have equivalent access to such information;
WHEREAS 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 other than Braille, Bell is unjustly discriminating against the Starks and other visually impaired subscribers contrary to subsection 27(2) of the Act;
WHEREAS, with respect to public pay telephones, the Commission considers that Bell is addressing the concerns raised by the Starks by deploying state-of-the-art public pay telephones that have many enhancements over previous models in that they provide, insofar as current technology permits, features that permit greater accessibility for persons with disabilities, including blind and visually impaired persons;
WHEREAS the Commission finds that Bell is not unjustly discriminating against the Starks, as they have submitted, or other visually impaired subscribers in relation to the provision of public pay telephone service;
WHEREAS, with respect to the provision of directories, the Commission finds that the current provisions providing visually impaired subscribers an exemption from the charges for local directory assistance and long distance directory assistance for calls placed from their residence, together with the other initiatives outlined by Bell in this proceeding appropriately address the Starks concerns and do not involve unjust discrimination against the Starks or other visually impaired subscribers; and
WHEREAS the Commission intends to initiate a proceeding directing all Canadian carriers to show cause why its findings in this instance with respect to Bell should not apply to them -
1. Bell is to provide to subscribers, upon request, billing statements in Braille, large print or computer diskette.
2. Bell is to provide to subscribers, upon request, in the alternative formats noted in 1, bill inserts informing subscribers about new services or changes in rates for existing services and any bill inserts that may, from time to time, be mandated by the Commission.
3. Bell is to file a report by 7 March 1997 detailing its progress in implementing the directions contained in this Order, as well as in developing appropriate systems to implement "talking" inserts and the placement of its inserts on the Internet.
4. Bell is to include in the report required in 3 above the steps the company is taking, other than as ordered below, to advise visually impaired subscribers of the availability of bills and billing inserts in alternative formats.
5. Bell is to provide to its visually impaired subscribers, by 22 April 1997, a billing insert in Braille advising such subscribers of the availability, upon request, of bills and billing inserts in alternative formats.
6. The Starks' requests with respect to public pay telephones, directories and directory assistance are denied.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General

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