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CRTC review opens door to improve Wireless Code’s customer safeguards

Three years after Wireless Code was first published, it’s clear there’s room for improvement in protecting Canadians from Big Telecom mistreatment

This morning, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced a review of the Wireless Code, which sets out the rights of mobile phone customers across Canada. Canadians have until September 26 to submit comments to the review, with five days of hearings scheduled to take place next February.

The review offers Canadians a welcome opportunity to improve the safeguards set out in the code, and point to a number of areas where there is room for improvement. However, improved protections will only go so far, as Canadians face fewer choices and offerings due to lack of competition in the wireless market, as smaller, more affordable providers such as Wind and MTS get taken over by dominant telecommunications providers.

Although the original Wireless Code was a significant step forward for the rights of wireless customers, it’s clear there’s plenty of room for improvement. For example, Canadians have told us of their frustration at not being notified when their kids rack up expensive overage fees, or at having their contracts altered unilaterally. This review is an important opportunity to address these shortcomings.

Sadly, improved customer protections will only go so far — what we really need is action to tackle the high prices and lack of choice in our broken telecom market. As affordable indie providers get swallowed up by the Big Three, it’s past time that the CRTC review its policies which currently see desperately-needed mobile virtual network operator providers shut out of the marketplace.

Potential areas for improvement in the Wireless Code include:

  • Despite $50 caps on overage charges for data, and $100 for roaming, many families and businesses are still experiencing “bill shock.” The Code mandates that account owners should be notified once they hit these thresholds, but in the case of shared family plans the person being notified is often the child using the device, rather than the account owner. We argue that overage notifications should be sent to all devices connected to the account and, at a minimum, to the person paying the bill.

  • Currently the Code mandates that phones can be unlocked (to work on any network) after 90 days and after the customer pays a fee. We argue that citizens under contract should be able to unlock their phones at cost (or free) whenever they choose.

  • The Code does not adequately protect the customers who need them the most: the roughly four million, often low-income, Canadians on prepaid plans. The Code permits wireless companies to refuse to return prepaid balances to customers who wish to switch services, an issue highlighted by Diversity Canada and the National Pensioners Federation.

  • It’s clear from the most recent annual report of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services that thousands of Canadians are still experiencing significant problems, particularly regarding changes to contracts and disconnection notices.

Canadians are speaking up for lower prices and improved choice at

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