Telephone companies offering 900 services say they welcome new consumer safeguards governing the offerings that were issued by the CRTC March 30, finally putting to close some issues that were raised as far back as November 2001. Both TELUS Corp. and Bell Canada say the new rules are a positive move as disgruntled customers to third-party services such as chat lines and horoscope services normally complain to them when they’ve been saddled with 900 service charges, since the phone giants often bill on behalf of the content providers. "We’re pleased with the new consumer safeguards that have been adopted…At the end of the day, to the extent that customers have issues with 900 service providers, they tend to come to us rather than the 900 service providers. Therefore, from our perspective to have clear obligations and additional safeguards in place allows us to help protect our customers," Janet Yale, TELUS executive VP of government and regulatory affairs, tells Network Letter. The sentiments are echoed by a Bell spokesperson, who notes, "We had actually recommended or supported many of the recommendations set out in the (CRTC) decision, and many are already in place. We expect the implementation of the safeguards to increase customer awareness and understanding of 900 services, which should reduce consumer concerns and complaints about these services." Yale refers to the safeguards spelled out in Telecom Decision 2005-19 as "enhancements" to existing measures. She points out that as a result of the decision, the telephone companies will be required to do two things, while many of the other measures are aimed at the 900 service content providers.  "For telephone companies, there are two clear areas of obligation," states Yale. "The first is that the bills for 900 services have to be fully descriptive in terms of all the charges – the time, date and duration of the call. That’s the way that the billing has to work, because our responsibility is often the billing… There’s also an annual billing insert that has a number of requirements that must explain how 900 services are billed, remind parents to caution their children not to call a 900 service without permission, provide information about 900 service call blocking, and tell consumers that they can call the CRTC for assistance in terms of disputes around 900 services and so forth." The CRTC also spelled out that the telcos cannot charge consumers for the initial call blocking of 900 service numbers. Charges can only be levied for subsequent changes to a call blocking request to prevent customers from repeatedly adding and terminating call blocking.  The commission decided that no charge should be levied for call blocking because more TELUS customers used the call blocking feature, which was offered free, than Bell Canada customers, who were charged $10 when it was first offered. According to statistics provided to the commission by TELUS and Bell, 91% of complainants in TELUS’ serving territory took call blocking, whereas only 56% of Bell Canada complainants opted immediately for call blocking.  The commission further notes in its decision that 19% of Bell’s customers who initially refused call blocking subsequently ordered it. The CRTC, therefore, concluded that the $10 charge deterred customers from opting for call blocking. The 900 service content providers, Yale notes, have new obligations with regard to disclosure. The CRTC has ruled that Internet users, as in the case of voice callers, to a 900 service must be informed that they will incur charges for accessing the content via the Internet.  The 900 service content provider must include a dialog box for Internet-based programs that includes a clear message that there is a charge, be easily legible, be in 12-point font and be displayed to the Internet user before the transfer occurs. The Internet user must clearly indicate his/her consent by clicking on an "I agree" button. With games of chance offered via 900 numbers, the providers must include a preamble that describes alternative ways to enter into a sweepstake or game that do not involve calling a 900 number to help callers avoid unnecessary charges.  The CRTC also stipulates that a public awareness campaign should be included on company web sites as well on the telco’s annual billing inserts. The web sites must warn parents to caution their children about the use of 900 services; include a reminder that 900 services and long-distance area codes beginning with an 8 are provided for a charge, unlike toll-free numbers; contain information about call blocking; and state that the CRTC can be contacted to resolve 900-service disputes. The CRTC also lowered the maximum fees that can be charged for certain 900 service programs, such as for games of chance that fell to $5 per 900 call from $25, and for high-cap psychic lines to $6 from $10. The CRTC notes in its decision that no 900 service content provider is currently charging more than $6 per minute for psychic lines, although the regulated rate has been $10. The CRTC has also stipulated that reasonably disputed 900 charges must be waived.