ARCHIVED - Telecom Order CRTC 2005-287

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Telecom Order CRTC 2005-287

  Ottawa, 5 August 2005

Bell Canada's application for a diagnostic testing charge

  Reference: Tariff Notices 6776 and 6776A
  In this Order, the Commission approves an application by Bell Canada to introduce a charge for diagnostic testing of a transmission channel with customer-provided equipment attached to  it, applicable when a customer requests the testing and no fault is found on Bell Canada's facilities.

Bell Canada's application


The Commission received an application by Bell Canada, dated 27 October 2003 and amended on 11 December 2003, proposing the introduction of General Tariff item 4215, Diagnostic Testing Charge (DTC).


Bell Canada proposed a charge of $23.50 for each 15 minutes, or fraction thereof, for diagnostic testing, when a customer requests the testing of a channel with customer-provided equipment (CPE) attached to it, the testing is performed by a test centre, and no fault is found on Bell Canada's facilities. Bell Canada filed a cost study in support of its proposed rate.


In its amended application, Bell Canada specified that the charge would apply only to diagnostic testing performed on the channels listed in General Tariff item 4550.9, including:
  (a) Channels for signal transmission - Item 4560
  (b) Channels for remote operation of a private mobile telephone transmitter - Item 4570
  (c) Channels for wired-music transmission - Item 4580
  (d) Channels for voice without signalling or conditioning - Item 4590
  (e) Channels for program transmission - Item 4600
  (f) Channels for television transmission - Item 4610
  (g) Channels for data transmission - Item 4660 and Item 4665


To clarify how the diagnostic testing charge would be applied in concert with existing General Tariff item 4210, Diagnostic Maintenance Charge, Bell Canada proposed the following wording:

Following a test where no fault is detected on the Company's facilities, the customer may request that the Company dispatch a technician. At the customer's premises, if no trouble is found on the Company's facilities and/or equipment connected to it, by the technician but such trouble continues to be present when the customer-provided equipment is reconnected to the Company's facilities and/or equipment, the customer will be charged a diagnostic maintenance charge (Item 4210) and a diagnostic testing charge. If, however, the trouble is no longer present upon such reconnection, neither charge will apply.




The Commission received comments from Allstream Corp., now MTS Allstream Inc. (MTS Allstream), and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) on 25 November 2003, from Call-Net Enterprises Inc., now Rogers Telecom Holdings Inc. (Rogers Telecom Holdings), the Canadian Alarm and Security Association (CANASA) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) on 26 November 2003, and from Futureway Communications Inc., doing business as FCI Broadband, on 28 November 2003.


Bell Canada filed reply comments dated 8 December 2003.


In response to Bell Canada's amended application, CANASA and MTS Allstream submitted additional comments on 31 December 2003 and 12 January 2004, respectively.


Bell Canada filed additional reply comments on 22 January 2004.

Position of parties


Interveners' comments


CANASA was of the view that the electronic testing of a circuit via a remote testing centre should not be the subject of a separate charge. CANASA argued that this was the cost of doing business and that it was already reflected in the rates that subscribers paid for the various services that they received. CANASA further argued that the proposed diagnostic testing service was an activity carried out by Bell Canada all the time, not only as a result of internally initiated requests, but also as a result of customer calls placed to its 611 number and other repair services.


CANASA submitted that Bell Canada's testing was all done through a test centre, which tested the customer circuits entirely through electronic monitoring and testing equipment, and that no technician would be dispatched to the customer's premises. CANASA suggested, therefore, that the proposed rate was excessive and vastly overstated the true costs of diagnostic testing. CANASA also expressed concern that there was no indication in the tariff as to when the diagnostic testing charges would commence and when they would end.


The CFIB submitted that the public interest, especially the interests of small- and medium- sized enterprises, would not be served by approving Bell Canada's application. The CFIB further submitted that Bell Canada, as a service provider, was obliged to facilitate customer requests to check a channel from a test centre without additional cost to the customer.


MTS Allstream argued that delivering a service in working order was an integral part of offering and maintaining telecommunications service and that to charge for the administration of a trouble report and subsequent preliminary diagnosis eliminated any semblance of customer service from the monthly rate. FCI Broadband supported MTS Allstream's view.


MTS Allstream suggested that apart from being impractical and onerous for the customer, the administration of the proposed charge would be burdensome even for Bell Canada. MTS Allstream submitted that if Bell Canada intended to charge for diagnostic testing, it would have to inform each customer at the time of the trouble report and postpone testing until the customer had had an opportunity to test the CPE, which would result in at least two calls to report the trouble. MTS Allstream further submitted that it was difficult for a customer to determine if a problem existed within the CPE, as such tests typically required specialized skills and test equipment or a spare CPE. MTS Allstream noted that often both a facility and a CPE appear to function correctly when tested separately, yet cease to function correctly when connected together. MTS Allstream submitted that at times, Bell Canada, CPE vendors and competitors need to co-operatively test each segment of a circuit to isolate a problem.


Rogers Telecom Holdings expressed concern that the wording of the proposed tariff appeared to be in conflict with the established principle that, before any diagnostic charges were levied, the onus was on the telephone company to demonstrate that the fault was due to the customer's equipment or facility.


PIAC submitted that Bell Canada was already recovering the costs associated with diagnostic testing, through their current rates.

Bell Canada's reply


Bell Canada acknowledged that it was responsible for maintenance and repair of its facilities between the demarcation point at the customer premises and the serving central office due to normal wear and tear and further, that the testing associated with this normal wear and tear was factored into the rates for the services. Bell Canada submitted, however, that the high frequency of requests it received for the testing of analogue channels terminating on CPE, where a problem was not detected on the company's facilities, was an unusual circumstance which generated an expense not captured in the pricing of that service. Bell Canada stated that the purpose of the DTC was to recover the costs of and prevent the apparent abuse of the company's testing resources.


Bell Canada considered it an unusual expense to do work to pinpoint a problem caused by the customer's equipment, and argued that the customer was using the company's resources to perform work that the customer's technicians should perform.


Bell Canada argued that the proposed rate for the diagnostic testing charge was not excessive, submitting that testing could not be performed as simply as CANASA contended. Bell Canada noted that simple tests may be performed at the test boards. However, given the analogue nature of the channels and the complexity of many circuits, a dispatch was sometimes required to another central office or remote facility in order to properly test the channel. The company stated that the DTC was based on the rate for a technician who performs the functions, and that the minimum fifteen-minute interval was struck based on an average number of minutes that it took to perform the tests over a one-year period.


In response to CANASA's concern that the proposed tariff was unclear as to what time would be included in the proposed charges, Bell Canada submitted that the time for which the charge applied was the time for performing the actual test, and that the non-chargeable activities included the time for the help desk to obtain all pertinent customer information and prepare and route the trouble ticket.


Bell Canada clarified that the proposed DTC would not apply to new requests at the time of installation, stating that cooperative testing with competitors on newly installed services, as a means of ensuring such services are fully operational prior to hand-off, would continue in their current manner.


In response to MTS Allstream's submission that Bell Canada must inform customers that the DTC could apply, Bell Canada stated that it did inform customers that a charge may be levied, thus giving them the option of avoiding the tariff charges by testing their own equipment. Bell Canada also submitted that customers with CPE had the responsibility to ensure that their equipment was not creating problems on the network.

Interveners' additional comments


CANASA submitted that it was not clear why Bell Canada's local channel customers had been isolated and targeted for this discriminatory charge. CANASA argued that Bell Canada had not provided any evidence that its local channel customers had abused its testing resources or placed unreasonable demands on these facilities. CANASA further noted that neither Bell Canada's tariff application nor the associated cost study made reference to these alleged problems. CANASA argued that it was not acceptable for Bell Canada to simply allege that a certain group of customers was abusing its test centre resources and expect the Commission to accept this accusation without any form of proof or evidence.


MTS Allstream submitted that, despite Bell Canada's acknowledgement that a single industry segment (i.e. alarm and security companies) was the driver for this new charge, the DTC applied to a much broader range of services and customers. MTS Allstream further submitted that approval of the application would set a dangerous precedent, as any incumbent local exchange carrier could introduce similar discriminatory charges for other classes of customers that it felt was abusing its testing resources.

Bell Canada's additional reply comments


Bell Canada stated that it had seen a significant increase, over the past few years, to the number of calls to its repair department from alarm companies to test facilities, where the main reason for the call was to ensure that the Bell Canada's facilities were functional. Bell Canada submitted that the reason the alarm companies operated in this fashion was to avoid having to dispatch their technicians until they were sure that the problem they had detected was related to their terminating equipment. Bell Canada stated that, as a result, it did a disproportionate amount of testing on Schedule 3A channels, primarily used by the alarm companies, and that close to 50 percent of the tests on Schedule 3A facilities resulted in finding nothing wrong with the telephone company's facilities. Bell Canada submitted that it was inappropriate to have to absorb the cost of testing facilities where the end result was to indicate to the customer that the problem was on the customer's equipment.


Bell Canada submitted that it had met with CANASA and its members to discuss the issue of testing facilities that were in working order and had indicated that it considered this behaviour highly inappropriate and it would levy "unusual expense" charges as a method of curtailing the additional work performed by Bell Canada's test centres.

Commission analysis and determinations


The Commission notes that in letters addressed to the Commission, an alarm company submitted that Bell Canada was applying charges, for diagnostic testing of channels, that were not in accordance with Bell Canada's General Tariff. Bell Canada replied that the charges in question were for testing channels, requested by the alarm company, where no fault had been found with Bell Canada's facilities. Bell Canada stated that such testing constituted an unusual expense and that its General Tariff, including items 10, 4000.2 and 4200.8, gave the company the authority to charge for such unusual expenses.


In a letter dated 26 August 2003, Commission staff indicated to Bell Canada its view that the application of tariff items relating to unusual equipment installation or unusual circumstances was not appropriate to deal with the reasonably frequent and well-defined activity of testing channels from a test centre. Bell Canada was therefore requested to file a separate tariff provision for testing channels where a test is requested by a customer, the test is performed from a test centre, and no fault is found with Bell Canada's facilities. Bell Canada's application was filed pursuant to this request.


The Commission considers that if Bell Canada were to charge for diagnostic testing, as described above, it would be more appropriate to do so under a specific tariff provision, rather than under a tariff item that permits the company to charge for unusual expenses.


The Commission notes that a number of interveners argued that diagnostic testing was the cost of doing business, and that Bell Canada was already recovering the costs of such testing through its monthly service rates. The Commission agrees that testing associated with basic customer service should be considered the cost of doing business and notes, in this regard, that Bell Canada acknowledged that it would continue to be responsible for maintenance and repair of its facilities due to normal wear and tear.


However, the Commission further notes Bell Canada's position that the high occurrence of testing associated with analogue channels that terminate on CPE generated an expense not captured in the pricing of that service. The Commission also notes Bell Canada's submission that a disproportional amount of testing was done on Schedule 3A channels and that a disproportionate volume of its testing of Schedule 3A channels showed no trouble on Bell Canada's facilities. Accordingly, the Commission considers that a tariff to recover such costs is appropriate.


With respect to the proposed rate of $23.50 for each 15 minutes, or fraction thereof, of diagnostic testing, the Commission finds that the proposed rate, based on the technician labour rate and the average time necessary to complete the task, is not unreasonable. Furthermore, the Commission is satisfied that Bell Canada's proposed rate meets the imputation test.


With respect to CANASA's concern that Bell Canada's proposed tariff is unjustly discriminatory, the Commission notes that the tariff applies to all customers of analogue data channels, and therefore does not consider it to be unjustly discriminatory.


Accordingly, the Commission approves Bell Canada's application, effective the date of this Order.
  Secretary General
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Date Modified: 2005-08-05

Date modified: