The best and worst provinces for cell phone contracts

The Right Click
Eastlink has jumped onto the wireless landscape with no-term cellphone contracts.

Cell phone contracts seem to be one of the biggest technological gripes Canadians have, no matter where in the country you are. With less aggressive competition than in the United States and the CRTC apparently slow to react to the changing nature of the market, we’re often saddled with expensive penalties for roaming, leaving contracts, or just about anything else wireless companies think they can make a buck on.

But that seems to be changing, at least if recent laws being passed by provinces are any indication. While the CRTC is in the process of conducting hearings on the wireless code in Canada, some provinces have taken wireless regulation into their own hands.

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For Quebec residents, cell phone contract legislation is nothing new. The government tabled legislation back in 2009 to protect consumers, which came into effect June 2010. The idea behind Bill 60 was to protect users from long-term contracts by limiting harsh financial penalties from wireless carriers, clear explanation of monthly rates and all optional services, and the prevention of automatic contract extension without explicit permission from the consumer.

In 2012, other provinces finally began to catch up with Quebec, many putting in place the same kinds of regulatory measures that are currently being discussed in the CRTC hearings. On September 27, Newfoundland and Labrador brought into effect Bill 6, which aims to make wireless contracts easier to understand, the CBC reports. Anyone in the province who signed a contract after that date is entitled to the following conditions:

  • Contracts must be clear, concise, written in plain language and provided in paper form
  • Fixed-term contract cancellation fees cannot exceed $50, or the remaining portion of the discount offered on the equipment sold if contract cancellation is before the device has been paid in full
  • The province can now go to court on behalf of consumers

Manitoba’s protection of wireless consumers also came into effect last September as the Consumer Protection Amendment Act (Cell Phone Contracts), ensuring that consumers get paper copies of contracts and that all costs are made clear upfront to the consumer in both advertisements and contracts.

Residents of Nova Scotia will soon be covered by changes to its provincial Consumer Protection Act as it relates to cell phones, too. On May 1, Nova Scotians will be able to cancel their contracts at any time with a limit of $50 in cancellation fees, and companies will be required to outline all possible costs up front.

In Ontario, similar measures were in the process of being put in place with Bill 82, known as the Wireless Services Agreement Act, 2012, which would limit the cost of cancellation fees and require providers to outline in clear, concise language all details of the agreement in a paper copy of the contract. Unfortunately, Ontario residents aren’t likely to see those proposed changes any time soon: the bill was in its second reading when provincial parliament was prorogued. The legislative process for all government bills tabled at that time was stopped, effectively killing Bill 82 as it currently stood. The bill will have to be reintroduced in the new session of parliament, which begins today (February 19).

A private member’s bill has been tabled in New Brunswick to regulate the wireless carriers in the province, which would offer similar protections as those in Manitoba and Quebec, but there remains substantial work before that could come into effect, if ever.

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Alberta doesn’t currently have legal measures in place for the regulation of the wireless industry in that province, but the government has been vocal in advocating the CRTC’s plans for a national wireless code, proposing a $500,000 fine for cell phone providers who don’t comply, The Calgary Herald reports. Saskatchewan and B.C. are also both currently without formal provincial wireless regulation.

Those provinces that don’t currently have any regulation in place for wireless industries are now likely waiting to see what comes of the national wireless code plans by the CRTC before creating their own legislation.

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