The CRTC's call for a consumer bill of rights (CBOR) is meeting with approval from all sides of the debate. But some still see the move as only the first step in an ongoing process.The commission released Telecom Public Notice 2003-6 in mid-June (NL, June 16/03). The proceeding, which evolved from last year's price cap ruling, Telecom Decision 2002-34, will look at ways to best inform subscribers about the rights they currently have when using telecom services. During the initial price cap hearings, a group of consumers' organizations (cited by the commission as ARC et al.) called for each incumbent telco to publish a brochure outlining rights and remedies available to customers. The CRTC agreed. "In the commission's view, ARC et al. has demonstrated that the Terms of Service and introductory pages of the ILECs' telephone directories are difficult to understand in some places," Decision 2002-34 stated. "In addition, in some cases they may not contain all the information necessary for an accurate understanding of consumer rights. Consequently, the commission agrees that it would be useful to develop a CBOR." ARC's representative at the proceedings welcomes the public notice. But Philippa Lawson, senior counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, notes that it took more than a year to get the commission moving. "We knew it was coming," she tells Network Letter. "As with everything, it was a little slow in happening." The vice-chair of the CRTC responsible for telecommunications concedes the point. "I suppose it's fair to say it didn't have quite the priority that some of the other issues coming out of the price cap proceeding had, and that's why it's taken so long to come to grips with it in terms of getting a public notice out," David Colville explains to NL.For one ILEC, it's a case of déjà vu. When Telus (then known as AGT) came under federal jurisdiction, it became subject to a proceeding to harmonize its terms of service with those of BC Tel and Bell Canada."We set about to have the same content but to put it in plain language," Willie Grieve, VP public policy & regulatory affairs for Telus Corp., explains. "We spent about a year going through with focus groups of customers asking them how easy or difficult are these terms of service to read and those kinds of things." Telus, formed by the merger of BC Tel and Telus, now has several sections in its phone directories listing the telco's obligations, customer obligations and responsibilities, customer rights and the liabilities section. The commission wants the telcos to reiterate what rights and responsibilities subscribers currently have. The public notice specifically notes that any review of the terms of service is beyond the scope of the hearings. That doesn't preclude changes at a later date, Colville stresses. "I think our first cut at it was, 'well, let's get what's there' in this sort of form," he notes. "But anywhere down the road there'd always be an opportunity to amend it." Lawson is looking forward to that prospect. Many of the issues contained under the various terms of service need to be looked at again, she maintains. "One of them is the limited liability, which in my view is totally outdated and is unfair, perhaps unconscionable from a consumer perspective," she states. She uses the example of a telco forgetting to list a business in the Yellow Pages. That action causes severe damage to the client, but the ILEC's liability is restricted to $20 or three times the amount it must refund or cancel charges. "That's peanuts to a business," she asserts. For his part, Grieve sees another reason why the process could lead to another proceeding. Technological advancement is changing the way services are delivered to clients. Telus is in the midst of converting to an IP-based network. "We believe that everyone will be going there eventually," he says. "Whether that produces a need to more clearly define rights and responsibilities in that world is an open question. So I expect that would be reviewed at some time. We'll certainly raise it during this consumer bill of rights review by the commission." Among Lawson's other concerns is the method of getting a refund for being overcharged by a telco. "Essentially you have no right to a refund unless you notice it yourself and dispute it within one year of the date that the itemized statement shows that charge correctly. I don't understand that," she remarks. "If a company makes a mistake surely they should be required to refund everyone who was overcharged. Why should it depend on whether they complain about it or not?" She cites the example of a recently released decision on customer confidentiality to bolster her argument. When the CRTC released Telecom Decision 2003-33 in late May, it forbade Bell Canada from sharing information about its subscribers within its different subsidiaries without the explicit consent of customers (NL, June 2/03). All information about the client except name, address and listed phone number is considered confidential. But Lawson finds a loophole in that aspect of the decision. She uses the example of social workers who don't want their addresses listed in the phone book. Under the current terms, that data would be accessible. ILECs want process to work Canada's largest ILEC vows to work fully to expedite the process."We think it's important that our customers are aware of their rights and obligations," Bell spokeswoman Catherine Hudon tells NL. "We make that information available as part of our terms of service, which is in the front pages of the directories, and we will continue to do that. But we're also open to looking at ways the information might be easier for consumers to understand." All of the ILECs will be inserting messages into telephone bills, informing their subscribers about the proceeding. The CRTC not only dictated the exact wording of the message, it also issued specifications about the colour of ink, paper and the font size to be used. The process will apply only to the wireline service of ILECs. It will not cover CLECs, even those owned by incumbents, and wireless providers. Multiple filing deadlines have been set for the proceeding. Of note, final public arguments must be submitted by next January. Reply comments from parties to the hearings must be filed by February 19, 2004.