Bill of rights gets busy signal in Yukon

A new pro-consumer bill of rights from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission does nothing for Yukoners unhappy with…

A new pro-consumer bill of rights from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission does nothing for Yukoners unhappy with Northwestel phone service.

Not yet, at least.

“At this time (the bill of rights) does not apply to Northwestel and a number of the smaller companies,” Anne Kennedy, director of public affairs for Northwestel, confirmed in an interview this week.

A myriad of smaller telcos including Northwestel are not subject to the clarified rules of engagement between themselves and their customers.

They now have a 120-day grace period to provide the CRTC with arguments that they should remain exempt.

Northwestel has formed a team that will examine whether the bill should be included in Yukon phone books, or whether the company will oppose its inclusion with the CRTC, said Kennedy.

Wording within the new bill could prove problematic, she explained.

The bill’s second entry affirms the customer’s right to pick phone services from any company they choose, “when more than one company offers service in your area.”

That does not mesh with Northwestel’s market realities, Kennedy said.

“In our area, the CRTC has not allowed local competition to take place because of the small market size,” she said.

The new bill also spells out consumer rights when telcos ask for security deposits for new phone accounts, rights to block outgoing 900 and 976 calls, rights to receive refunds from billing errors, and rights to detailed billing information.

Northwestel’s current terms of service run over nine pages in the 2006-2007 phone book.

They were re-written a few years ago and are “essentially the same” as the new bill of rights, Kennedy noted.

“If you compare the two documents, they’re really quite similar,” she said.

“But we are going to be looking at it and determining if there is a reason why we should not include it in our directories.

“One of the considerations is the length of it; it’s a lot of pages,” Kennedy said.

Northwestel’s final decision will be taken in light of “what’s in the best interests of our customers,” she said.

The CRTC created the new bill of rights in plain English as service agreements in telephone directories “may be difficult for consumers to comprehend,” it explains on its website.

“Consequently, the commission has now established a clear statement to provide consumers with an accurate understanding of their rights with respect to local home phone service.”

Commission hearings that led to the new consumer bill of rights were held in 2003, Caroline Grondin, media relations officer with the CRTC, said in an interview Wednesday.

Those meetings did not include consultations with smaller telephone companies like Northwestel, she said.

“Because they were not consulted, the council has granted smaller implements 120 days to make their case about why this decision should not apply to them,” Grondin said.

The CRTC recently decided that the new bill should include all telephone companies, she added.

“When we issued this bill, they (smaller telcos like Northwestel) said it shouldn’t apply to them,” Grondin said.

“All we said is that it should. So if a company wants us to say that it won’t apply to them, then they have to make their case.”

Grondin could not provide the criteria the CRTC will use to judge if Northwestel will be exempt from the bill of rights.

The fact that competition is difficult for smaller markets like the Yukon is one argument the CRTC is anticipating from smaller telcos, Grondin said.

“This is one of the things that they can make their case about,” she said.

“They say that this bill should not apply to them. Is it that that nothing should apply to them, or is it that some parts can’t apply to them — and if so why not?”

The new bill of rights is viewable on the CRTC’s website, http://www.crtc.gc.ca.