Cellphone customers will get caps on their excess data and roaming fees and other new rights starting today, under the CRTC's new Wireless Code of Conduct.
The code, which will apply to all new contracts signed starting Monday and to all contracts by June 3, 2015, allows customers to cancel contracts at no cost after a maximum of two years.
It will allow individual or small business wireless customers to:
Cancel a new contract and return the phone at no cost (provided customers stay within usage limits) within 15 days if they are unhappy with the service.
Refuse changes to key terms and conditions of their contract, including changes to services and prices for those services, for the duration of their contract.
Get a plain language summary of their services, including information on when and why they may be charged extra.
Receive a notification when they are roaming in a different country, with rates for voice services, text messages and data usage.
Cap excess data charges above their plan limits to $50 a month.
Cap roaming fees at $100 a month.
Get their phone unlocked after 90 days if it was discounted in exchange for a fixed-term contract or immediately if the device was paid for in full.
Have service suspended at no cost if the phone is lost or stolen.
Pay no extra charges for a service described as “unlimited.”
The code also limits cancellation fees less than two years into the contract:
For customers who received a discount on their device from their carrier in exchange for a fixed contract, the maximum cancellation fee is the value of the discount, and the cancellation fee should be reduced an equal amount for every month of their contract they have already completed.
For those who did not receive a subsidized device, the maximum is $50 or 10 per cent of the minimum monthly charge for the remaining months of the contract.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has launched a cancellation fee calculator on its website to help customers figure out allowable cancellation costs for their circumstances.
Customers concerned about whether their carrier is abiding by the wireless code should first try to resolve the issue with their wireless provider, the CRTC says. If that doesn't work, they can complain to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.
During a live online chat with CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais, organized by the CRTC Monday, some participants expressed concern that wireless providers were hiking prices to compensate for the fact that three-year contracts are no longer allowed.
Blais responded that the CRTC believes that letting customers renegotiate their contract at least every two years will have a positive effect on competition.
In the past, consumer advocates and smaller wireless carriers had argued that competition was being stifled because many customers were locked into three-year contracts and faced huge cancellation fees if they broke those contracts to switch to another carrier.
A group of carriers is appealing part of the wireless code, but the CRTC says the entire code will nevertheless apply to consumers for now.
Rogers, Bell, Telus, SaskTel, Manitoba Telecom Services and other carriers are challenging the application of the code to all contracts by June 3, 2015.
At that time, there will still exist some three-year contracts, signed by customers in exchange for a discounted device before today, when the code officially went into effect. Customers in those contracts would be free to cancel their contracts on June 3, 2015, even though the subsidy on their devices wouldn't be paid off in full, the carriers argue, leaving the wireless companies on the hook for the remaining balance.
The Federal Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the challenge.