For a large utility, using high-end mainframe volume printers, the reprogramming involved would not be too much of a burden, though certainly some redesign of the forms and customer profile record are required. The bills will use much more paper and require extra postage to mail out. The largest utilities can spread the cost over a large customer base; and other states will probably follow suit.
But small operators, such as small boroughs, will face a tougher challenge and much higher costs. Plenty of places still use pre- printed stock forms for their invoices and modifying them is more difficult and costly.
Have to say, speaking as a basically liberal, maybe even a "do gooder" type, this is the kind of thing that can give progressive or socially conscious government actions a bad name, and make "tax and spend" a not totally undeserved criticism.
Certain levels of government-mandated assistance to handicapped individuals make sense; others just cost more than they're worth, create more problems than the ones they solve, or address problems that could be handled in other, less costly fashions.
This one seems to me to fall in these latter categories.
I had been getting my NYC MetroCard statement in large print, but I think that they may be switching to on-line only.
I am on a 22" monitor with nice size type, so that is OK by me.
My big problem is with some fast food places such as McDonalds where I can not read the behind-the-cashier menus.
I have asked McDonalds if they could put full menu on line so I could read it a home, and McDonalds just blew me off.
***** Moderator's Note *****
The problem with online bills is that elderly people who can't see very well often can't afford internet access or a computer. They may also be physically challenged, and thus unable to get to a library to view a bill online, even assuming that they're able to learn how to use the computer.
This kind of issue will crop up more and more as the baby bommers retire, especially given the political clout of the AARP and other organizations which champion causes for the elderly.
I'll bet that the utilities simply contract the process to a service bureau which specializes in large-print media.
Our village sends out water and sewer bills on postcards. I expect that if three people want large print bills, our clerk will take those three postcards, set the photocopier to 2:1 enlarge, make copies, and mail them. Sheesh. You don't have to do everything in software.
For some very tiny boroughs that will be solution, just have the clerk handle them manually.
But some boroughs have many people (older or disabled) who would ask for the service. Those small boroughs might not even have a full time clerk, so having someone month after month do the photocopying and hand mailing can add up to an expense.
Note that some small places have their billing done by an outside vendor. The vendor might not appreciate manually going through a pile of invoices to identify those for hand processing, and will definitely charge to do so.
In a state as large as NY, this will be hardship for some entities.
Part of the problem is that many utility bills have become so complex that enlarging them becomes a burden. Few get by with a postcard as one town does. That complexity is due in part to state laws requiring all sorts of breakdowns. My phone bill has many lines of $.03 or so on them.
As to this issue, I would have the law allow exceptions for hardship and allow a long time for the transition. In this way it could be accomplished when there is normal modification of the billing going on.
I take it this measure is intended to assist people with deficient or deteriorating vision, including elderly folks (which at my current stage of life would begin to include me . . . ):
1) Online billing (which saves trees as well, and is worth doing for its own sake), combined with onscreen magnification (Cmd-+) or even automated text to voice translation of the online bills..
(And, acquiring some simple computer skills can have many other advantages for elderly individuals with or without deteriorating vision: receiving photos on line from the grandkids, email, promoting and preserving mental skills and contact with the outside world.)
2) Online bill paying (if your vision is really too bad to read a bill, is it good enough to write a check? And address an envelope?)
3) Assistance from friends or volunteer staffers at a local senior center (which has all kinds of ancillary advantages in social contact -- and can protect against the kind of despicable but omnipresent lottery and stock scams which prey on the old folks -- as my wife and I can sadly tell you all about from our years caring for aging parents).
4) And least, but not necessarily last, a simple magnifying glass or Fresnel lens -- which my wife uses all the time. There's one in a drawer in every room in our house.
None of these require legislation; all of them have very some level of beneficial side effects; none of them add fairly expensive and complex complications to the companys' tasks and systems (which is, whether you like commercial organizations, an overall beneficial thing to do).
All the more reason to really think carefully about the cost-benefit aspects of different ameliorative measures for unending needs . . .
[Our neighborhood of circa 1,000 single family residences has just begun to install curb cuts (gently sloping breaks in the curb at the end of every block, where the sidewalk crosses a street), so that the few people in the area who are confined to wheelchairs can get to local facilities or friends' houses.
It's 3,500 bucks a cut for these things; about $300,000 total by the time we'll be done -- and because of our local arrangements we'll have to all share in footing the bill personally. Doing this has been mandated by Federal law for some time in fact, but we're doing it voluntarily, since the local and Federal governments both have enough common sense to not try to really enforce the law -- and I was among those who voted for doing this. But you still have to apply some common sense in what you choose to do, and not do.]
Handling a cellphone while driving has already been illegal in NYS for years; it's done nothing to reduce the practice. New York is one of those states that believes "First thing, pass a law!" but seldom follows up with enforcement, except for PR purposes like the recent "ticket blitz" against cellphone-using drivers in NYC (who often are stuck immobile in traffic anyway and thus no hazard to anyone) - or revenue purposes in many small towns.
I don't think that's a viable option. Elderly voters cling to their ways and distrust new gadgets - let's face it, that's part of getting old. It's nice to hope that our seniors will embrace new things, but it's not that simple. American society places a premium on independence and self-sufficiency, so I think most seniors would rather keep to the paper they already know how to use, rather than having to ask for help to learn about computers.
If your vision is too bad to read a bill, you won't be able to check your phone bill to see if your grandkids are calling pay-per-vote lines for an online talent show, or if your caregiver is burning up the wires to another state during your nap. _Writing_ a check doesn't require particularly good eyesight, and the envelopes are pre-addressed.
Nice if it's available without too long a wait - many seniors have bladder issues - and if it's free and accurate; not so nice if it becomes an opportunity to solicit the patrons for "worthy" causes. While stock and lottery scams are despicable, the fund-raising efforts of many charitable organizations don't stand close examination either, with seniors sometimes subjected to harangues about modifying their wills to endow the charity in question, or accepting "home help" from youthful volunteers who are paid less than half of what the "Charity" which supplies them collects. In any case, depending on volunteers to accomplish a public-policy objective is just bad public policy.
.... except when they're out of pills and their arthritis is acting up.
All of them require government supervision to prevent the abuses I've mentioned, all of them have some level of detrimental side effects, both on a personal and societal level, and all of them benefit publicly regulated companies at the expense both of individuals and of the body politic.
No offense, but your swinging a double-edged sword: saying "they should" doesn't work in a democracy. We have to deal with what seniors _will_ do, not with what (hopefully well-meaning) volunteers think they _should_ do. After all, they _will_ vote, and our leaders know it.
Bill Horne (Speaking just for myself) (Filter QRM for direct replies)
Some of those lines are actually "extra profit for the telco" lines designed to make you think they're some sort of tax, rather than going into the telco's pocket. Those should be mandated to be incorporated into the base rate. Others are taxes. All of those (including 911 tax and USF tax) should be rolled together, much the same way as a store's sales slip lists only "tax").
Of course, telcos don't want you to realize how much they're getting, and govt doesn't want you to realize how much it's getting.
I don't dispute those benefits (though how many computers have text-to-voice? I minister to a lot of computers, and the only time I've ever seen it was for a guy who's eyesight is bad enough so he has a seeing-eye dog).
But who is going to pay for the computer, onsite training, upkeep, and Internet service for those who don't have it? There isn't always any discretionary income left, after paying for drugs and taxes and food and telephone. And no, how to use it is _not_ "intuitively obvious", not to them.
(Personally, I find that online bills are far too easy to overlook in the vast heap of spam and forwarded jokes and progress reports from organizations that sound vaguely familiar.)
That is all true. But does not acknowledge the difficulty of making it happen. And some seniors just don't want anything to do with computers, really.
Writing checks is pretty easy, especially if it's what you're used to.
Those things are also good, but who is going to provide the rides to and from the senior center? Will a computer, a ride, and an open center be available at the time the senior wants to use it? (That may be, right after the bill comes, because otherwise it gets forgotten.) Will that take more, or less, time than writing a check? Of course, that assumes there _is_ a local senior center.
Yes, that's a good thing to do. I'm not quite there yet, but I will be one day.
But some of them add (relatively) expensive and complex elements to the senior's life.
As an aside, but related to this issue: A major city was sued by disabled groups for not installing such curb cuts at the time of routine street resurfacing. But such work does not affect the curbs and there was no request for the service so the cuts were not done. To me this litigation was stupid and misplaced.
I think the idea of honest cost/benefit analysis, as discussed here, is very important. Utility bills have always been affected by so- called "public interests". Before divesture, toll and premium equipment charges cross-subsidized basic local service. Today, energy companies are forced to carry deadbeat customers for which other customers must make up the losses.
My community has a number of elderly people in it. Some are quite proficient and heavy users of computers and the latest technology. But others do not have a computer at all, have no interest in getting one, and have tried and fail to understand how to use them.
We must remember that computers are not free, they must be purchased, and then a subscription to an ISP obtained. Very occasional users can get by with dial-up on the existing phone line, but most will have to get broadband access which is an additional cost. Many elderly do not have the money for this.
Having my own experiences in elder care, I can say that it is very difficult to depend on volunteers to do stuff. They might be well meaning, but they are not very dependable and not necessarily well skilled. Some volunteers are actually a detriment.
Indeed, regretfully, in many places it is difficult to depend on paid employees to do stuff. Many elder care jobs are low pay and do not attract the most reliable kind of worker. It is not suprising that elderly who lose mental acuity often become victims of blatant scams or exploitation. (Elderly who are physically frail but still mentally sharp are better able to protect themselves, indeed, it is them who report attempted scams.)
This is going to be a major issue in the future as the baby boomers get older. Some elderly voluntarily give up or limit their driving, but others do not and get into accidents (most very minor, but some tragic).
Compounding the problem has the movement from the city to the suburbs; in the city seniors had public transportation, walkability, and many friends to assist them while in the suburbs all of that is much harder to find.
I suspect part of the void will be filled by on-line services. Perhaps there will be food and service delivery by on-line request. The technical part is pretty easy, but _reliable_ logistics will be tough. Finding good delivery people isn't easy.
On-line ordering and grocery delivery already exists in a significant part of the country. One company, alone, (Peapod, ) covers the greater Chicago area and S.E. Wisconsin, and a sizable swath along the East Coast (Virginia to Mass.) "Netgrocer.com", and Schwanns both claim coverage of the 'contiguous 48 states', but with limited selections.
These kind of services have been around for more than a decade. Peapod is celebrating TWENTY YEARS in business, this year.