New wireless code takes effect Monday

The Wattson app allows users to track usage via their smartphone. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TORONTO – After months of deliberation – and countless tales of Canadians fed up with the confines of their wireless service agreement – The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) new wireless code comes into effect Monday.

The Wireless Code of Conduct puts mandatory requirements on wireless providers to cap data overage charges and puts an end to the three-year contracts that many consumers grew to hate.

From Monday on, customers who sign a new contract have the right to a flexible two-year contract with a service provider, the right to unlock their phone after 90 days (or immediately if you paid the full price for the phone), a $50 cap on wireless data overage charges in Canada and $100 internationally, among other changes.

READ MORE: 5 questions about the CRTC’s new wireless code

“The coming into force of the wireless code marks the beginning of a more dynamic marketplace for wireless services,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC in a press release.

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“Rather than feeling trapped by their contracts, Canadians will be able to make informed choices about the wireless services—and service providers—that best meet their needs every two years, if not more often. It will be in the best interests of wireless companies to adopt innovative practices to ensure their customers are satisfied and to attract new ones.”

Most of the major wireless providers in Canada have already instituted many of the new rules, starting with two-year contracts.

Though customers have already voiced concerns about telecoms hiking prices of voice and data plans to make up for the two-year contracts.

CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais took part in a Twitter conversation answering user questions about the new wireless code Monday. When asked about concerns that telecoms would hike prices to compensate for the shorter contracts he answered, “We agreed with the Competition Bureau that this would contribute to a more dynamic marketplace.”

READ MORE: Canadian consumers left reeling from customer service nightmares with telecoms

Meanwhile grassroots advocacy group OpenMedia – which played a role in fighting for the new code of conduct – is still calling on the Harper government to do more for Canadian consumers.

“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,” said Executive Director Steve Anderson.

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“The Big Three cell phone providers control over 90% 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.”

In October Canada’s major telecoms were given the green light by the Federal Court of Appeal to challenge part of the code, arguing that some customers – depending on when they signed three-year contracts – would be able to terminate them after two years without paying a cancellation fee.

The CRTC said its wireless code should apply to all contracts, no matter when they were entered into, by no later than June 3, 2015.

But the telecom companies say some three-year contracts were signed in the latter half of 2012 and won’t expire until after the June 3 deadline, potentially leaving them on the hook for part of the subsidy for their smartphones, some of which cost as much as $700.

The code is a result of public consultation the CRTC held with consumers across Canada, many who said they needed more clarity when it comes to cellphone contracts.

Consumers can read the full text of the Wireless Code of Conduct on the CRTC’s website.

– With files from The Canadian Press


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