Telecom Order CRTC 99-741
Ottawa, 29 July 1999
BELL CANADA - DIRECTORY ASSISTANCE WITH AUTOMATED DIRECTORY ASSISTANCE CALL COMPLETION SERVICE
File No.: Tariff Notice 6276
1. On 4 September 1998, Bell Canada (Bell) filed an application under Tariff Notice (TN) 6276, amended by TN 6276A dated 25 September 1998, for approval of tariff revisions providing for the introduction of a restructured Directory Assistance (DA) with Automated Directory Assistance Call Completion (ADACC) services.
2. On 4 November 1998, the Commission initiated a proceeding under Telecom Public Notice CRTC 98-32, inviting comments on Bell's application.
3. Comments were received from Paytel Canada, Inc., Clearnet Communications Inc., AT&T Canada Long Distance Services Company, The Public Interest Advocacy Centre on behalf of the Consumers' Association of Canada, Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec and the National Anti-Poverty Organization, Mr. Chris Wong, Call-Net Enterprises Inc., Canadian Association of Retired Persons and the Comité des responsables des télécommunications de centres hospitaliers du Québec.
4. In reaching the determinations herein, the Commission has considered the submissions of all parties.
Summary of TN 6276A
5. Under Bell's application, Local Directory Assistance (LDA) service and Long Distance Directory Assistance (LDDA) service would be integrated, enabling customers to dial only 4-1-1 and request any number in Canada. Bell would continue to support the traditional 1-(NPA)-555-1212 LDDA dialing but, for Canadian Numbering Plan Areas (NPAs or area codes), would route those calls made by Bell's toll subscribers (i.e., those subscribers PIC'd to Bell) to the same Bell operator positions as 4-1-1 calls.
6. Bell proposed to maintain the charge of $0.75 for each call to Directory Assistance (DA).
7. Exemptions from the $0.75 charge would apply to residences of:
(1) persons unable to use their telephone directory due to any permanent disability or to functional illiteracy, who have duly registered with the Company in the appropriate manner.
(2) persons 65 years of age and over, who have duly registered with the Company in the appropriate manner.
(3) persons employing Bell Relay Service.
8. Under Bell's application, the following exemptions to DA charges would be removed from the tariff:
Persons calling from Public Telephone Service;
Persons calling from Semi-Public Telephone Service;
Persons calling from Mobile Telephone Service;
Persons calling from Ship and Aircraft Service;
Persons calling from Teleforum Service;
Persons calling from Toll Telephones;
Persons calling from federally or provincially registered hospitals or those administered by the provincial or federal governments;
Persons who inform Bell of a temporary handicap or disability preventing the use of the directory;
The number request for any service when the calling party indicates that an emergency exists;
The number request of Special Reversed-Charge Service;
Listings omitted from the directory in accordance with the customer's request, or listings that are not found.
9. Bell also proposed to integrate the existing ADACC option into the proposed integrated DA service and rate. ADACC would be offered at no additional charge. The current rate for ADACC is $0.35 per call.
10. Call completion would be offered for local and long distance telephone numbers originating in Bell's territory, where the calls originate from a Touch-Tone telephone and where the telephone numbers are provided by Automated Voice Quote. These calls would be completed over the Bell network.
11. Call completion is not available for calls originating from payphones, calls to US telephone numbers and calls to toll-free telephone numbers.
12. Customers would have the option to block ADACC. Customers who are currently blocked would continue to be so with the introduction of this service.
Removal of Exemptions
13. The Commission considers that Bell's application involves balancing the reasons underlying an exemption against the efficiency and consumer choice benefits to be derived through the development of competitive markets in the provision of directory services.
14. Although competition in the provision of directory services would be facilitated if the exemptions were removed, the Commission notes that the exemptions currently in place have generally been implemented for sound public policy reasons, and the Commission notes that most exemptions are consistent among the former Stentor member telephone companies.
15. The Commission finds that Bell has not adequately addressed the public policy implications of its request and has not provided any compelling rationale for removing those exemptions and exceptions currently in place which are based on public policy considerations.
16. With respect to the exemption from DA charges when Bell is unable to provide a listing, the Commission notes that costs are incurred by Bell in handling DA requests in those circumstances when a number cannot be provided.
17. An unsuccessful DA request can occur when the requested number is either an unlisted number or does not exist or when the request is not sufficiently precise. In the Commission's view, it is reasonable that the costs incurred with respect to unsuccessful requests should be borne by those who use the service.
18. In addition, the Commission considers that the removal of this exemption is an important factor in optimizing the efficiency of Bell's DA service.
19. The Commission therefore considers it appropriate to delete this exemption from Bell's tariff, but to retain the remaining exemptions.
Integration of LDA and LDDA
20. The Commission finds the integration of access to LDA and LDDA into a "4-1-1" access to be appropriate in that it will simplify access to DA. The Commission notes that Bell will continue to support 1-(NPA)-555-1212 dialing.
Integration of ADACC into DA Service
21. The Commission considers that the proposed integration of ADACC with DA service, whereby no charge would apply to a completed call, amounts to a rate reduction, thus requiring an imputation test demonstrating that the proposed rate is compensatory.
22. The Commission also considers that Bell's proposal to eliminate the $0.35 call completion charge could be seen to be funded by the elimination of the DA exemptions.
23. Given its determinations above with regard to the exemptions, the Commission is not satisfied that the integrated service, including ADACC, would pass the imputation test.
24. In addition, the Commission is of the view that ADACC is an optional service the costs of which should be borne by those who use the service and not by the general body of DA users.
25. In light of the foregoing, the Commission orders that:
(1) the exemptions and exceptions currently in effect shall remain in the tariff except that the exemption from DA charges for listings omitted from the directory in accordance with the customer's request or listings that are not found due to the fact that they do not exist or that the request is not sufficiently precise, shall be removed from the tariff;
(2) access to LDA and LDDA shall be integrated into a dial "4-1-1" access as proposed by Bell; and
(3) the existing ADACC option shall not be integrated into the approved integrated "4-1-1" access DA service.
26. In addition, the Commission orders Bell to notify its customers, through a billing insert, of the changes to DA set out in this Order. The billing insert is to identify the exemptions and explain that callers will now be charged for requests when a number cannot be provided.
27. The Commission directs Bell to issue revised tariff pages reflecting the decisions set out in this Order. Such revised tariff pages shall not become effective prior to the customer notification required in paragraph 26.
This document is available in alternative format upon request and may also be viewed at the following Internet site: www.crtc.gc.ca
Dissenting Opinion by Commissioner Stuart Langford
I disagree with paragraphs 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the majority decision in this application. In my opinion, the majority's conclusions regarding the reasonableness of charging for services not rendered set too low a quality standard for directory assistance service providers. As well, they could be interpreted as signalling this Commission's openness to the notion of double charging. Neither proposition is desirable.
This application, filed by Bell Canada (Bell) on September 4, 1998, sought approval to charge $0.75 for directory assistance (DA) requests made in 11 circumstances where, historically, customers have enjoyed an exemption from service charges. Had Bell's application succeeded in full, the number of such exemptions available to its customers would have been reduced from 14 to three. As it stands, the majority decision reduces the overall number to 13.
Among those DA calls that Bell sought to de-exempt, were those made by persons calling from hospitals, persons temporarily incapacitated or handicapped and persons needing assistance in an emergency: the diseased, the disabled and the distressed. To say, as the majority has, that "(Bell has not adequately addressed the public policy implications of its request," is to bring new clarity of meaning to the word understatement.
This application was poorly conceived and badly supported in its entirety, the aspect of it that is the chief focus of this dissent being no exception. I refer to the proposal by Bell to charge $0.75 for DA inquiries even in instances where information cannot be provided to a person making an inquiry because of: "Listings omitted from the directory in accordance with the customer's request, or listings that are not found." In other words, where someone seeks a number that is unlisted and therefore cannot be provided under the terms of a de-listing agreement between Bell and a customer or where the operator does not find the information requested, the inquiring consumer will still be charged $0.75. In the case of unlisted numbers, such a charge is duplicative. In the case of listings not found, it may be unreasonable. In both instances it sets a dangerous precedent. I would not allow it.
Those who wish the privacy and anonymity an unlisted number provides, pay for those benefits. In Ontario, for example, Bell customers pay a monthly fee of $2.00. Until 4 February, 1998 when the charge was drastically reduced, the monthly fee was $4.45. Ex-directory customers pay for less (no listing in their local telephone book) and for more (the agreement that Bell's DA system will act as a wall rather than as a conduit between them and unwanted callers). It is this monthly charge which does or should cover the cost of providing ex-directory service. To exact a further payment from each inquirer seeking a number he or she does not know to be unlisted is to charge twice for the same service. This is unacceptable.
The situation in which a number simply cannot be provided poses a more difficult question than that involving unlisted information. The issue is, who should pay for the effort expended, the user or Bell? No doubt, as the majority decision points out in paragraph 16, "(costs are incurred by Bell(" in such situations. As well, the majority is correct in indicating that in situations, "(when the request is not sufficiently precise," it is not unreasonable to expect the imprecise user to pay. However, the simple facts that costs are always incurred and that DA users are sometimes imprecise, are insufficient reasons for dropping the existing exemption regarding charges when requests are not filled.
One need not stretch one's imagination far to conjure up other circumstances in which requests made are not filled; circumstances in no way or only marginally related to the precision of the request. There may be an error in Bell's records, for example. Perhaps a customer's name has been incorrectly spelled or a recent change of address has not been noted. The Bell operator, automated or natural, who takes the DA call may mishear a request or inadvertently overlook the listing sought. An operator may simply be having a bad day and not wish to make the extra effort required to fulfil a difficult request, for a name that is hard to pronounce, for instance, or a surname and inadvertently reversed given-name initials. A little extra effort on the operator's part would bring success but when Bell is equally reimbursed for failure and success, where is the incentive for it to encourage its employees to try harder?
In paragraph 18 of its decision, the majority refers to the importance of "(optimizing the efficiency of Bell's DA service." How? By approving an industry standard that charges equally for delivery and non-delivery? That is an efficient method of increasing corporate revenues, no doubt, but provides nothing on the other side of the quid pro quo equation that typifies service industries generally. One has only to apply this no-delivery model to other service industries to see how unreasonable it is. Imagine, for example, entering into a yard service agreement with a landscaping company that charged a flat fee for grass cutting whether or not your grass was cut.
Fiscally, Bell has broader shoulders than the vast majority of its customers. Granted, some DA requests are imprecise, some may even come repetitiously from customers too lazy to keep a record of numbers frequently dialled. Some but not all, not probably at any rate. Until Bell can demonstrate that it can accurately delineate between customer-caused and system-generated failures to deliver, it should retain the present exemptions, all of which are reasonable. They are a cost of doing business, the sort of frustrating expense service industries of all sorts face. I would have denied this aspect of Bell's 11 point application as well as the other 10.
Dissenting Opinion by Commissioner Andrew Cardozo
While I agree with the majority decision in large part I am in disagreement in the matter of the exemption from directory assistance when Bell is unable to provide listings (paragraphs 16, 17, 18, 19 and 25).
My reasons are simple. It seems incongruous to charge for a service not rendered.
Bell has applied to revoke the exemption for directory assistance for "not founds", i.e. when a number is not provided to a customer either because the number is unlisted, does not exist or cannot be found. Bell will charge for such a service that they essentially do not provide. I do recognize that Bell operators spend less time in answering a request for a number that can be provided, than for one that cannot be provided, but in total they still spend considerably less time on calls of the latter description. It seems that this is a normal cost of doing business. Compared to other fields of commerce, if one had to pay to browse in a book store or a car dealership, such operations would quickly go out of business. Rather, it is common for enterprises to spend an endless amount of time on customers whether or not a good or service is purchased.
This part of the application also disregards that there are those who may be technically entitled to an exemption from being charged, but are reluctant to expose what they may see as their vulnerability - a disability, non-literacy or sight problems.
Competition in telephony is supposed to help the consumer and to bring down prices. This has happened successfully in long distance service, but in exchange my concern is that customers will get "nickeled and dimed" with service charges which can mean that there is either no benefit to them or that they are considerably inconvenienced. Commission decisions in costing issues have to strike a balance between fairness to commercial operators and to consumers. In my view this charge works only in the interest of the operator and against the interest of the consumer.
For these reasons I respectfully dissent from the majority on this decision.
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