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CRTC Proceeding on Telecom Consumer Bill of Rights – Consumer Groups Initial Submission

Ms. Diane Rheaume
Secretary-General
Canadian Radio-Television and
Telecommunications Commission
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0N2

BY EMAIL AND COURIER

Dear Ms. Rheaume:

Re: Public Notice CRTC 2003-6: Consumer Bill of Rights

1. The following submission is made in response to Telecom Public Notice CRTC 2003-6, on behalf of the following groups, collectively referred to herein as the “Consumer Groups”:

  • The Consumers’ Association of Canada, National Anti-Poverty Organization, and L’Union des Consommateurs;
  • The BC Old Age Pensioners’ Organization, Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC, federated anti-poverty groups of BC, Senior Citizens’ Association of BC, West End Seniors’ Network, End Legislated Poverty, BC Coalition for Information Access, and Tenants Rights Action Coalition; and
  • The Consumers Association of Canada (MB. Branch) and the Manitoba Society of Seniors.

2. In PN 2003-6, the Commission invited parties to provide their views on a Consumer Bill of Rights (“CBOR”), to be comprised of a list of clear and concise statements of existing consumer rights written in plain language.

3. Specific issues on which the Commission requested comment include:

  • Proposing rights for inclusion in the CBOR, providing the exact wording of the statement of the right and the accompanying text. Parties are also to identify the documentary sources related to the right;
  • Recommendations on methods to communicate the CBOR to consumers; and
  • Address whether there is a need for an amendment process and if so, to propose the process.

Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights

4. While drafting the CBOR, it became abundantly clear that it would be difficult to reference every right that a consumer may be interested in. In addition, the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (“ILECs”) have different policies on important matters. Therefore, we broadly defined the rights so as to develop a CBOR written in terms that are uniform across Canada. Where applicable, we referred the consumer to the decision, term of service or policy that would give them further and specific information. In addition, we recommend that each ILEC provide page references to any other consumer information published in their white pages in the same manner we have proposed for references to the General Terms of Service.

5. Our proposed CBOR is entitled “Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights” to specifically identify that this document pertains solely to telecommunications service. The documentary sources related to the rights are referenced as endnotes.

6. We used the category heading “Consumer Relations and Remedies” to more accurately reflect the rights we proposed under this section. We also identified some important rights that do not fall within the five categories set out in the Public Notice. We have listed these rights at the end of the CBOR under the section entitled “Other”.

7. While drafting the CBOR, various issues came up that needed further clarification by the Commission. These issues are listed below:

  • We ask the Commission to clarify whether the CBOR includes both residential and business service. Our proposed CBOR has assumed that both classes of service are included.
  • The federal Privacy Commissioner’s Finding #172, regarding unlisted service and Call Display, should be followed by all ILECs and incorporated into the Bill of Rights. (refer to Paragraph 4 of the proposed CBOR)
  • Consistent with federal privacy legislation, consumer information other than “listed name, address and telephone number” should be treated as confidential (refer to Paragraph 4 of the proposed CBOR). The current General Terms of Service treat “name,address and listed telephone number” as confidential.
  • Consumers should have the right to pay telephone bills by any reasonable means. In practice, however, some ILECs have stopped accepting cash as a means of payment. This issue needs to be addressed and the rules clarified. (refer to Paragraph 8 of the proposed CBOR)
  • The issue of the manner in which charges and services are to be identified in billing statements needs to be resolved. (refer to August 6, 2003 letter from BCOAPO et. al, and CRTC Decision 2002-34, paragraph 806.)
  • We await the Commission’s rulings on a number of relevant matters, including:
    • whether ILECs can disconnect subscribers from local service for non-payment of toll charges (BMT Committee dispute);
    • the scope of consumer protections related to 900 services (CRTC PN 2002-2);
    • the scope of consumer protections related to telemarketing (CRTC PN 2001-34);
    • whether ILECs must automatically refund overcharged amounts to all affected subscribers (PIAC Part VII Application re: Bell Canada party-line rental set overcharging); and
    • the scope of remedies available to consumers who have been wronged by an ILECs’ non-compliance with CRTC regulations (PIAC Part VII Application re: ILECs Disclosure of BTS rates).

8. The Consumer Groups’ proposed Telecommunications Consumer Bill of Rights is set out in Attachment A.

COMMUNICATION OF CBOR

9. The CBOR must contain the rights that consumers feel are the most pertinent to them. The CBOR must be written in plain language and presented in a consumer friendly format. Finally, the CBOR must be communicated effectively. Towards these objectives, the Consumer Groups submit the following.

Plain Language Review

10. Once the Commission has determined which rights will be included in the CBOR, the wording of those rights must be carefully executed. The Commission has requested that Parties provide concise, accurate and clear statement of the rights and accompanying text. The Consumer Groups have relied on our clients and our own expertise to ensure that we have complied with this request. The Commission may wish to use the services of a plain language specialist to ensure that this goal is achieved. The value of having the rights presented clearly and effectively to consumers cannot be overstated. The CBOR must be useable by consumers.

11. However, any revision of wording runs the risk of changing the meaning of a given right. It is therefore essential that any further editing of an agreed CBOR be subject to further review and comment by interested parties.

Communication to Consumers

12. The CBOR has the ability to become the primary document that consumers refer to. As such, it should be disseminated as broadly as possible. The CBOR should be communicated in three separate ways:

a. The CBOR should be published on the CRTC website and on the websites of all ILECs. There should be a clear and conspicuous link to the CBOR on the CRTC’s home page, on the ILECs’ main web page for consumer/residential services, and on all web pages with consumer-related information.

b. The CBOR should be published conspicuously, in font size of at least 11pt, in the white pages of all ILECs. The Consumer Groups submit that the CBOR must be given prominence or it will become lost in the many different types of information found in the front of the white pages. For example, Metro Vancouver white pages begins by publishing an emergency list of numbers, followed by 8 pages of information entitled “How to use Telus Personal Call Management Services”, followed by 8 pages entitled “Home Pages: Choices for Wiser Living”. It is not until 17 pages into the telephone book that a consumer will find the Table of Contents that will direct him or her to information on the basic rights of consumers pertaining to telephone service.

Accordingly, the Consumer Groups submit that the CBOR be placed immediately after the list of emergency numbers. Where applicable, we submit that the CBOR should reference where further information on point can be found within the white pages and where applicable, online. For example, the Consumer Groups’ first proposed right would have a reference at the end as follows:

For more detail, refer to sections [insert section numbers] of the General Terms of Service located at page [insert page number] of these white pages.

c. The CBOR should be distributed to all subscribers as a bill insert once it is finalized and thereafter once a year. The CBOR should be a separate document from the bill, and should be readily distinguishable from marketing material that is commonly also sent via bill insert. In particular, the size, colour(s), layout and formatting of the CBOR insert should be different from that used in marketing inserts. The recent insert used to publicize this proceeding (e.g., plain black and white, reasonable size font) could be used as a model for future CBOR inserts.

AMENDMENT PROCESS

13. There is clearly a need for an amendment process specific to the CBOR, as the Commission promulgates new rules and revises old rules. Indeed, there are pending issues before the Commission right now that will affect the CBOR (for example, disconnection of local service for non-payment of long distance, 900 service, or other non-local charges).

14. The Consumer Groups submit that there be an ongoing process to compile proposed amendments to the CBOR throughout the year, for inclusion in the annual revision. Whenever a CRTC proceeding relates to consumer rights, the Commission should provide an opportunity for Parties to made submissions on amendments to the CBOR. In addition, there will likely be further consumer rights issues raised in the Bill Management Tools and Access to Telephone Service Committee. As part of that process, Parties can make submissions on amendments to the CBOR. Once a year, the Commission would initiate a proceeding regarding amendments to the CBOR and parties would have an opportunity at that time to make further submissions. The actual amendments to the CBOR would also be made once a year to coincide with the publication of new directories and for the annual bill insert.

All of which is respectfully submitted,

original signed

Philippa Lawson
Co-Counsel for the Consumer Groups
cc: Interested Parties, PN 2003-6

 

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