The head of TELUS Corp.’s regulatory shop is calling a recent decision on consumer quality of service (QoS) a positive step for giving ILECs an out when major unforeseen events stretch their resources.  On March 24, the commission issued Telecom Decision 2005-17, which sets out 13 quality of service standards to be reached by telecommunications providers, and a sliding scale of financial penalties to be paid when those targets aren’t met.  TELUS executive VP of government and regulatory affairs Janet Yale tells Network Letter the decision comes as no surprise to the company since discussions have been going on for years. But, she applauds a commission decision to allow ILECs to apply for adjustments to the penalties when events such as natural disasters, civil disturbance, vandalism and others including labour disputes occur. Telco customers across the country will now see rebates flow onto their bills before the end of 2005 stemming from QoS issues during the period 2002-2004. ILECs have until April 25 to identify any adverse events – what Yale dubs forces majeur – to the commission to be taken into account as it sets those rebate levels. The decision finalizes the financial penalties, which are set according to a sliding scale for the 13 different QoS indicators, according to how close the ILECs came to meeting the minimum standard acceptable to the CRTC. Each of the 13 benchmarks has 1/13 of a maximum 5% of an ILEC’s total revenues penalty associated with it. In its lengthy decision, the commission often notes that arguments in favour of lower penalties, generous margins of error, and a smaller revenue base on which to calculate penalties were excluded since, "the performance standards represent the minimum acceptable performance for the services in question. They are not performance targets. Consequently, the failure of an ILEC to satisfy a QoS indicator should result in a rate adjustment which reflects the significance of that failure and establishes an adequate incentive to avoid such failures in the future." While the commission sided with consumer groups in maintaining penalties some telcos felt were too high and unreasonable, the final decision comes as no surprise to TELUS’ Yale. "That’s old news," she says. "What’s new news is really just the finalization of the rates – the charges that apply for misses and the way in which you calculate those charges has been finally determined. There was an interim regime in place pursuant to which we were accruing a liability, but not actually paying it out because it’s very complicated to pay people and then, if they change it, you have to change what rebates were by a little bit. So, we accrued the liability because we knew it was coming, and this was just a question of finalizing the rates.  "What (the CRTC) did was they changed a little bit the way in which they do the calculations, compared to what they had originally proposed. But, the maximum penalties are the same under this final regime as what was originally contemplated, which was the 5%. The total’s the same. It’s just the way you get there is a little bit different…What’s different is that consumers will actually see rebates based on these calculations now because we know what the basis on which we have to make those calculations. But, what’s really interesting, and this was an issue which we pursued fairly aggressively with the commission, is the force majeur exemption." Yale notes that during the period when customer issues "challenged" the company, it had to deal with major forest fires in Western Canada, a major cable cut, and floods (NL, Nov. 24/03). In October 2003, the Telecommunications Workers Union even took out advertising in British Columbia and Alberta urging people dissatisfied with TELUS service not to take their frustration out on the employees.  The CRTC reported that it received 2,445 complaints about Telus quality of service from January 2002 until last September 2003, compared with only 763 for Bell Canada (NL, Oct. 28/03). Yale is relieved the CRTC will consider giving allowance to TELUS for some of the difficulties it encountered. "I think that’s a terrific recognition on the part of the commission. What they’re trying to do is to make sure that telephone companies take their quality of service obligations seriously and do the best they can to meet those obligations in ordinary circumstances – but that in extraordinary circumstances beyond their control it doesn’t make sense to penalize you for, you know, the effects of an earthquake or a flood or a fire. Because, that’s not something you can predict and should have planned for. I think that was the most significant thing where the commission did recognize that it doesn’t make sense to apply penalties in those extraordinary circumstances." Asked whether she agrees with the proposed benchmarks for QoS, Yale says the commission won’t be the main incentive for ILECs to provide good service. "We had, as you know from the record, a period in which our customer service results challenged us, but we have fixed those problems. We take our customer service obligations very, very seriously. In fact, we think of the commission’s standards as a minimum, rather than a maximum, because, in a competitive environment, customer service from our perspective is an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the market, and we want to be a leader, not just domestically, but globally in terms of our standards of customer service. We want to delight customers, because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to keep them in an increasingly competitive environment."