THE BLOG

We Did It: Understanding Canada's New Cell Phone Rules

12/03/2013 12:17 EST | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 EST

As of yesterday, our hard-won new cell phonecustomer protection rules go into effect for all new cell phone contracts/sales. The new rules, which were announced by the CRTC (Canada's telecom policy-maker) in June, apply right across Canada, so cell phone users from coast to coast to coast will benefit. Those on existing contracts will benefit from the rules by June 3, 2015 at the latest - although the Big Three are fighting to delay it further.

These new cell phone customer protection rules will not be enough to rein in Canada's Big Telecom giants, but this is a step in the right direction. The Big Three cell phone providers control over 90 per cent of the market, and ultimately that number will need to change if Harper and Industry Minister Moore are to make good on their promises to bring down prices and improve choice.

The rules -- formally called the Wireless Code of Conduct -- apply from December 2nd, to all new cell phone contracts. To recap, here are some examples of how Canadian cell phone users will benefit:

  • An end to 3-year contracts : The new rules effectively put an end to restrictive 3-year contracts, which were one of the most widely despised aspects of the old system. Finally, Canada is catching up with the rest of the industrialized world by switching to more flexible 2-year terms for all new contracts. Sadly, if you're already trapped in a 3-year contract, you'll need to wait until June 2015 to escape - and Big Telecom is even taking Canadians to court to delay that escape even longer. There's no reason the shortened contracts should result in higher prices, but if they do we'll know for sure there's more work to do to rein in the Big Three.

  • $100 cap when using wireless data abroad: We've all heard horror stories of Canadians who take their phone on trips abroad, only to return to ridiculous data bills, sometimes running into tens of thousands of dollars. Even a short trip to visit friends in the U.S. could turn into a financial nightmare. From today, your telecom company will need to get your explicit consent to charge you anything over $100 for using your phone abroad. You'll still be able to use more than $100 if that's what you want -- but your telecom provider will need to check with you first.

  • $50 cap on wireless data overage charges in Canada: Wireless data is more expensive in Canada than almost anywhere else in the industrialized world. Many of us are familiar with the sinking feeling we get when we open our monthly bill to find an extortionate data charge tacked on. Starting today, your telecom provider will need to get your consent before charging you anything more than $50 for data use not included in your monthly plan. Again, you can still incur $50 worth of data overage fees if you want - but your provider needs to obtain your consent, and not just hit you with a surprise bill at the end of the month.

  • You'll have the right to unlock your phone : Under the new rules, you have the right to unlock your phone 90 days after purchase. If you've paid the full cost of your phone upfront, you can have it unlocked immediately at the point of sale. Unlocking your phone enables you to use it on other networks -- including networks in other countries. This can really save you money when travelling abroad. Unfortunately, your provider can still charge you for unlocking your phone and this charge can often be around the $50 mark. We're working to get rid of this unnecessary charge; the new rules aren't perfect, but they are a big step forward.

These positive changes didn't happen by accident. Canadians worked together to shape customer-friendly rules that respond to the needs of cell phone users, rather than restrictive, confusing, and expensive rules dictated by unaccountable telecom giants.

Here at OpenMedia.ca, we engaged Canadians to help shape today's new rules by asking them to share their Cell Phone Horror Stories with us. We used this feedback to develop our crowd-sourced action plan for the future of our wireless market: Time for an Upgrade: Demanding Choice in Canada's Cell Phone Market. We also encouraged Canadians to tell the CRTC how our broken cell phone market could be improved, and your OpenMedia.ca team had our Lindsey Pinto at the CRTC hearings to speak up on your behalf.

So today's positive new rules are all thanks to you -- we did this together, Canada!

Sadly, while today's hard-won changes are positive, we still have a long way to go to fix our broken wireless market. Despite these new customer protections, Canadians still pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world, as confirmed by multiple independent reports.

And of course Big Telecom is still up to its old tricks; trying to trap Canadians into high-cost, punitive contracts while blocking our access to independent, lower-cost alternatives. They're even naming members of the public in a court appeal they filed in an attempt to delay implementation of the new customer-friendly rules for customers who have an existing contact. OpenMedia.ca is a party to this case and we'll be speaking up on your behalf.

We've seen that when Canadians work together, there's nothing we can't achieve. That's why it's so important we keep up the pressure to ensure Canadians get the lower prices and greater choice they deserve.

Here's how you can help:

Let's keep speaking up, Canada!