02/13/2013 06:16 EST | Updated 04/15/2013 05:12 EDT

What do you think: cell phone contract rules

Consumer advocates say wireless customers who sign a new multi-year contract with their provider should have 15 days to change their minds before being totally locked in.

That would give them time to find out if they actually get a decent wireless signal in their local area, representatives of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Consumers' Association of Canada and the Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations told the CRTC at a public hearing on proposed rules for wireless contracts and fees earlier this week.

The hearings at the CRTC are about the proposed code that would specify rules for contract provisions such as cancellation fees, phone unlocking and contract changes.

The proposal says every customer should be given a personalized summary of their wireless contract. The summary would include important information such as the minimum monthly cost for their service and the total discount or subsidy they got on their new wireless device in return for signing a contract.

The sample contract in the document includes a proposed 15-day "cooling off period" in which any customer unsatisfied with the contract may cancel it without penalty if they have used less than a certain number of minutes.

The CRTC does not believe that the buyer's remorse clause is necessary, but has proposed a number of changes and additions to the draft code, such as:

- When customers dispute charges such as charges for premium text messages, that the onus be on the carrier to prove that the customer consented to those charges, since they have better access to the evidence.

- Customers be allowed to unlock their phones immediately, and that the unlocking fee be limited to the amount it costs the carrier to unlock the phone. The draft code does not specify an unlocking fee and proposes that subsidized devices can remain locked for up to 30 days.

- The code apply to customers of prepaid wireless services, not just post-paid customers; and to customers of existing contracts, not just those who sign contracts after the code is implemented. The consumer advocates were particularly concerned that prepaid cards don't specify the price per minute that the customer will be charged. They also proposed a ban on the expiration of minutes a certain time after the card is activated.

- Carriers be banned from making unilateral changes to customer contracts. The draft code currently proposes allowing carriers to make changes to a customer's contract. However, under the draft code, customers would either be allowed to cancel the contract without penalty or refuse the changes if they would increase the cost or decrease the amount of service he or she received.

- The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services get more powers to enforce the code, such as the ability to hear complaints filed on behalf of a group of customers rather than just individual consumers.

B.C. Almanac live chat

B.C. Almanac hosted a live chat on this issue today with Dali Bentolila, owner of Telepath, a telecommunications consulting company.