Telecom Decision CRTC 2002-13
Ottawa, 8 March 2002
Extending the availability of alternative formats to consumers who are blind
In an August 2001 order requiring Canadian carriers to provide essential information in alternative formats to persons who are blind, the Commission asked carriers to indicate why, as a condition of their providing service to resellers, they should not ensure that resellers also provide such information in alternative formats.
In this decision, the Commission establishes a condition of service that carriers must include in tarifffs, contracts or other arrangements with resellers. Under this condition, billing statements and bill inserts must be provided in alternative format to subscribers who are blind, on request, and information setting out rates, terms and conditions of a service must be provided to subscribers or potential subscribers who are blind.
1. In Telecom Order CRTC 98-626, dated 26 June 1998, the Commission found that contrary to section 27(12) of the Telecommunications Act (the Act), Canadian carriers were unjustly discriminating against visually impaired subscribers by not providing, on request, billing statements and bill inserts about new services or changes in rates for existing services in alternative formats.
2. Accordingly, in Order 98-626, the Commission ordered Canadian carriers, including wireless carriers and non-dominant carriers, to provide visually impaired subscribers, on request, with billing statements, bill inserts concerning new services or changes in rates for existing services, and 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 by the carrier and the subscriber.
3. In Order CRTC 2001-163, Access to Microcell's Fido-related service by persons who are blind, and Order CRTC 2001-164, Access to Bell Canada's SimplyOne by persons who are blind, both dated 26 February 2001, the Commission found that customers and potential customers required sufficient information to be able to compare services that are available and to make informed choices. The Commission noted that it was of fundamental importance that customers have access to information about the rates, terms and conditions of a service. The Commission found that customers who are blind are at a disadvantage by not being able to obtain, upon request and in a format that meets their needs, the rates, terms and conditions of a service. The Commission concluded that this disadvantage was undue and contrary to section 27(2) of the Act.
4. Accordingly, the Commission directed Microcell Connexions (in respect of its reseller Microcell Solutions) and Bell Canada (in respect of its offering called SimplyOne), respectively, to ensure that information on rates, terms and conditions of its services be made available, in alternative formats, to persons who are blind upon request.
5. In Order CRTC 2001-690, Alternative formats for a person who is blind, dated 31 August 2001, the Commission extended the requirements of Order 2001-163 and Order 2001-164 to all Canadian carriers with respect to their telecommunications services and those of affiliates that resell the carriers' services to end-users.
6. In Order 2001-690, the Commission adopted the position that persons who are blind should have access to the information they need from any telecommunications service provider. The Commission thus initiated a proceeding asking parties to show cause why the conditions of service set out in Orders 2001-690 and 98-626 should not be extended to the telecommunications services provided by carriers to both affiliated and unaffiliated resellers, who in turn, provide services to end-users.
Positions of parties
7. The Commission received comments from: Aliant Telecom Inc., Bell Canada, Bell Mobility Cellular Inc., MTS Communications Inc., MT&T Mobility Inc., Northern Telephone Limited, Nortel Mobility Inc., Northwestel Inc., Northwestel Mobility Inc., Saskatchewan Telecommunications, Télébec ltée, Télébec Mobilité inc., TELUS Communications Inc., TELUS Communications (Québec) Inc., and TELUS Mobility Cellular Inc. (collectively, the Companies), Microcell Connexions, Microcell Telecommunications Inc. (Microcell), Telesat Canada (Telesat) and TMI Communications (TMI).
8. Microcell and the Companies did not disagree with the Commission's approach. The Companies stated that they are prepared to include the required provisions in their tariffs and agreements with resellers.
9. Telesat and TMI indicated that should a situation arise where a customer who is blind asks for billing or other service information in an alternative format, they would try to accommodate the request in a timely fashion.
10. Parties raised a number of concerns with the enforcement of the requirements.
11. The Companies submitted that they do not have the means or the intention to monitor, police or adjudicate resellers' consumer-relations practices. They proposed that the Commission's decision should set out the specific language of the provisions in question to be included in tariffs and agreements with resellers so as to ensure consistency throughout the industry.
12. The Companies proposed that the Commission specify the potential consequences of non-compliance for resellers. They submitted that the inclusion of the above conditions of service would allow the Commission, where appropriate, to formally direct a carrier to suspend providing to a reseller those telecommunications services where the reseller is found not to be fulfilling its obligations.
13. Microcell stated that compliance enforcement by carriers alone could be problematic. Microcell argued that the carrier does not have a direct relationship with the reseller's customer and would not likely be in a position to determine whether a sanction should be imposed against the reseller for non-compliance. Microcell submitted that the Commission needs to be directly involved through the existing complaints process. It proposed that the Commission could order the carrier to suspend or terminate service to the reseller if it was satisfied that, based on the facts before it, such a sanction was warranted. Microcell noted that a sanction would be effective isif the Commission's order was issued to all other carriers.
14. Telesat and TMI stated that the Commission should issue a decision directing all resellers or carriers to make such information available in alternative formats upon request by their customers or face enforcement measures by the Commission, pursuant to section 51 of the Act. Telesat and TMI also stated that they provide many services under long-term contracts to customers who have the right to resell spare capacity. They submitted that attempts to re-open these contracts to include conditions concerning the provision of information in alternative formats are likely to be resisted, if not refused outright.
15. Telesat and TMI also stated that they have no legal right to force any of these resellers to re-open these contracts. They stated that terminating service to a reseller is not a reasonable or viable option. Telesat and TMI argued that if a reseller simply refuses to provide information in alternative formats to a customer, there was nothing the carrier could do about it.
16. The Commission considers that its power under section 24 of the Act to impose conditions on the offering and provision of telecommunications services by Canadian carriers is an appropriate means to address the issue of provision of essential information in alternative formats. The Commission notes that the imposition of conditions of service applicable to customers, such as resellers, is an important regulatory tool to ensure that carriers provide telecommunications services in accordance with the Act.
17. Where the Commission has forborne from its power to approve tariffs for telecommunications services, it has generally maintained its power to impose, pursuant to section 24 of the Act, conditions on the offering and provision of telecommunications services.
18. The Commission notes that it investigates complaints about non-compliance with conditions that the Commission has imposed under section 24 of the Act. The Commission notes that the suspension or termination of service are examples of measures that used by the Commission can use to enforce compliance with a section 24 condition.
19. The Commission notes that no party objected to the Commission's imposition, on all resellers, of the requirements of Orders 2001-690 and 98-626. The Commission considers that billing statements, bill inserts about new services or changes in rates to existing serviceson rate or service modifications and information on rates, terms and conditions are of fundamental importance because they are necessary elements of the contractual relationship between the subscriber and the service provider.
20. The Commission also considers that all consumers should have reasonably equal access to such information. For these reasons, as well as the reasons in the previous orders noted above, the Commission concludes that all telecommunications services customers, and potential customers, as the case may be, who are blind should have access, upon request, to billing statements, bill inserts about changes in rates or new services modifications and to information on rates, terms and conditions of services.
21. In light of the foregoing, the Commission concludes that it is in the public interest to impose, pursuant to section 24 of the Act, the alternative format condition set out below.
22. The Commission directs that as a condition of offering and providing any telecommunications service to resellers that provide services to end-users, Canadian carriers must include in their applicable tariffs, contracts or other arrangements, a condition requiring that the reseller make available the following information, within a reasonable period of time, in Braille, large print or computer diskette or such other format as is mutually agreed upon by the parties:
upon request of subscribers who are blind:
- billing statements;
- 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; and
- upon request of subscribers or potential subscribers who are blind, information setting out the rates, terms and conditions of the service.
However, in the case of a request for an excessively large volume of information, the service provider may limit the alternative format to computer diskette or any other electronic format mutually agreed upon by the parties.
23. With respect to telecommunications services provided by Canadian carriers pursuant to an approved tariff, the Commission directs Canadian carriers to issue revised tariffs to include the conditions set out above within 20 days as of the date of this decision.
24. Further, with respect to telecommunications services offered and provided by Canadian carriers otherwise than those pursuant to approved tariffs, i.e., where the Commission has forborne from approving tariffs, Canadian carriers are directed to include, within 30 days of the date of this decision, the alternative format condition set out in paragraph 22 above in applicable contracts or other forms of agreements or arrangements between Canadian carriers and resellers.
This document is available in alternative format upon request and may also be examined at the following Internet site: www.crtc.gc.ca
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