Feds seek comments from annoyed callers

The federal government might change the way it holds incumbent telcos responsible for poor service, and it wants help from Canadians to make the proper amendments.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in March said it would ask for public input on quality of service (QoS) penalties in the local voice service arena.

The CRTC monitors carrier quality of service – elements like time-to-respond for repairs and other things that help maintain the telephone’s status as a convenient communications medium.

But the Commission says incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) like Aliant Telecom Inc., Bell Canada and Telus Corp. often miss the mark on QoS. According to the CRTC, Bell in 2000 missed QoS thresholds 48 times. Although it improved service in 2001, Bell was the only ILEC to meet QoS indicators that year.

The Commission expected that competition in the local sector would keep the ILECs honest. But competition languishes. Some say the incumbents have no incentive to provide high QoS.

“Our research has shown that quality of service in fact has deteriorated significantly since competition came into place,” said Philippa Lawson, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Ottawa, a consumer group that pushed for stronger QoS measures. “And…there was no regulatory incentive. When companies didn’t meet the standards, they got little more than a slap on the wrist.”

Something had to be done. The Commission in last June’s price cap decision (Decision 2002-34) enacted penalties to hold ILECs accountable. Now, depending on how poor service is, an incumbent must pay rebates to wronged customers – up to five per cent of the carrier’s annual local service revenues.

But that was an “interim” solution until the CRTC could devise a more permanent QoS scheme. Now the Commission seeks public input for the set-in-stone stage. It wants comments on whether certain QoS indicators should count for more than others in the final tally, and how customers should be compensated for poor local service, among other things.

The CRTC says people can make written comments by May 16. See Public Notice 2003-3 for details. It’s on the CRTC’s Web site (www.crtc.gc.ca) under “Decisions, Notices and Orders.”

Kathryn Brul