Canada is, famously, a terrible place to get a phone contract. We pay among the highest rates in the world for service, the country’s major telecommunications companies exercise a virtual oligopoly over service provision, and those same companies are shielded by domestic regulation from any foreign-owned competition that might pressure them to improve service or lower prices.
But some new regulations came into effect on December 1 that may ease the burden of dealing with a Canadian telecom company.
Last June, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission announced new terms to the country’s Wireless Code of Conduct. This was primarily in response to consumer complaints about unexpected charges on their phone bills and ambiguously-worded contracts. Accordingly, the biggest changes came in these areas.
For starters, there is no longer an unlocking fee for a new phone, and it is significantly easier to switch your phone to a new carrier if you want a different plan. This also means that if you are travelling internationally, it will be easier to switch your phone to a local carrier and avoid the (often brutal) roaming charges.
The way that Canadian carriers charge customers for going over their data limit is also changing. The CRTC Wireless Code of Conduct had already capped data overage at $50 per month per account, unless the customer agreed to pay more. This was the case no matter how many individual devices were part of a single plan, e.g. in a family plan.
But there were no real rules governing who could actually request extra data, which meant that in some cases the account holder would get a much larger phone bill than expected because some member(s) of the plan had responded ‘yes’ to a text from their phone carrier offering to sell them more data. This has been changed so that all data overage must be authorized by the primary account holder, which should hopefully mean substantially fewer parents discovering that a minor in their household has ‘consented’ to running up hundreds or thousands of dollars in data overage unbeknownst to the person paying the bill.
The new rules also aim to make phone contracts less of a labyrinthine nightmare. The CRTC has introduced trial periods for new contracts. This gives customers 15 days to try a phone plan with the option of a free cancellation if they are unsatisfied—as long as they used less than 50 percent of their monthly data and return the device in near-mint condition, anyway.
Contracts are also now required to be in plain language and explicitly lay out the plan’s minimum monthly charges, as well as any optional fees. A permanent copy of the contract must also be provided to consumers, either in print or electronic form. And customers must be provided with a tool to measure how much data they are using, and any potential roaming costs they may incur.
The CRTC is also updating the rules around cancellation fees. Regardless of whether your contract is fixed-term or indefinite, an early cancellation fee cannot exceed the cost of the device subsidy. In the case of a standard two-year contract, the price you pay for the device must be spread out evenly over the 24 month period. This way, your cancellation fee gradually goes down, in proportion to the length of time you stay on the contract.
Canadians are still subject to some of the worst telecommunications contracts in the world, and that appears unlikely to change so long as the CRTC itself is stacked with industry executives charged with policing themselves. But these news regulatory tweaks certainly come as a welcome change.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.