United States International Access Free & Open Internet

Study Finds Cell Phone Customer Mistreatment Rampant

Time for an Upgrade makes the central conclusion that there is widespread mistreatment of cell phone users in Canada. Canadians who participated in the study brought up twelve specific problem areas through their stories. OpenMedia.ca’s analysis categorized these problems into three major themes: disrespectful customer service, restrictive contracts, and price-gouging. A graph displaying breakdown of the twelve problems areas can be found here.

The study finds that 63.45% of Canadians who filed a “Cell Phone Horror Story” with OpenMedia.ca included complaints about poor wireless service. A significant 33.09% of commenters noted that they felt trapped in their contracts due to excessive and punitive termination fees. Currently many Canadians are forced to commit to three-year contracts when entering a wireless service agreement, which impose unjustifiable barriers to switching providers. A three year term is very long in terms of the competitive marketplace, the lifetime or technological relevance of mobile handsets, and general life changes.

As legal expert Tamir Israel of the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) states, “There are many legitimate reasons why an individual might wish to change or end a fixed term contract, and no legitimate reasons to penalize them for doing so.”

“The findings of our study clearly show that Canada’s dysfunctional cell phone market is a dead weight on our economy, and is in desperate need of an overhaul,” says OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson. “Unless decision-makers take action, Canadians will continue to face poor service and punitive high prices, and will continue to fall behind the rest of the industrialized world.”

Currently three companies—Rogers, Bell, and Telus—have a controlling share of the market. There are few alternative options, and Canadians are finding themselves effectively barred from using them due to excessive termination fees, automatic contract renewals, and a lack of initial clarity.

"We chose to launch Fongo from Canada because Canadians are tired of abusive, expensive contracts and they're demanding new options," says Dave Bullock, president of Fongo, an innovative mobile phone service provider. "An environment that fosters more creative and flexible wireless options needs to be a priority for the Canadian government."

Many respondents noted that they found Canadian cell phone service to be inadequate compared to other countries, and were appalled at the contrast.

The study invited Canadians across the country to submit their Cell Phone Horror Story online. Outreach took place through advertising, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Reddit, websites and blogs, traditional media outreach, as email. The group received robust public participation, with 2,859 responses recorded through the online tool at http://CellPhoneHorrorStory.ca over a period of approximately four months.

Time for an Upgrade corroborates findings by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), which has reported a severe increase in the proportion of complaints related to wireless services—from 31% up to 62%—since their first annual report in 2008.

Canadians can find the community-powered study and can take action to demand choice in our cell phone market at http://openmedia.ca/upgradeCanada.

Key images and charts relating to this report can be found here.

About OpenMedia.ca

OpenMedia.ca is a grassroots organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open and affordable Internet. The group works towards informed and participatory digital policy.

Through campaigns such as StopTheMeter.ca and StopSpying.ca, OpenMedia.ca has engaged over half-a-million Canadians, and has influenced public policy and federal law.

About the CellPhoneHorrorStory.ca campaign

Earlier this year OpenMedia.ca launched a campaign decrying the price-gouging poor customer service and lack of choice in the cell phone market at http://StopTheSqueeze.ca.

On April 4, 2012 the CRTC seemingly responded by inviting comments on whether the Commission should development national rules for wireless service in Canada. OpenMedia.ca mobilized Canadians to write in and request that the CRTC do just that, noting that any rules should build upon (not erode) frameworks in the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba, as well as on the framework proposed in Private Members Bill 133 in Ontario.

On October 11, 2012 the CRTC announced it would hold a public consultation on national rules for wireless services. Since then, the campaign at http://CellPhoneHorrorStory.ca has been giving citizens an easy way to make the CRTC aware of the real human consequences of our broken cell phone market. OpenMedia.ca highlighted Canadians’ stories in their crowdsourced submission to the CRTC, and has now released a report detailing their findings and recommendations.



Lindsey Pinto
Communications Manager, OpenMedia.ca
[email protected]

Select Cell Phone Horror Stories

“In 2002 I had my legs crushed in a horrible accident. I could not work and was surviving on government funding temporarily. There was 8 months left to a three year plan on my Telus cell phone. I phoned the company, hoping to use the exceptional emergency clause, in order to be released from the remainder of the contract, as I could not afford it. I told the person I spoke with that medical and police records could be provided. They told me I did not qualify for the exceptional emergency clause. I asked how I would qualify and was told, "You would have needed to die." - Citizen submission, Batch 2, p. 509

“Years ago I signed a three year contract with Rogers in Victoria, BC. I used the phone over the weekend, and discovered that it didn't work well at all in my apartment. The reception was quite bad. I tried to return it early the next week, but they refused to accept the return. Apparently I had signed a contract locking me in to three years of monthly payments to Rogers, but they had no binding commitment to actually provide me with usable services during that time.” - Citizen submission, Batch 1, p. 156

“My son is now 29 years old and he has Asperger's Disorder. In 2006 he was in Whitby Ontario and came across a kiosk in the mall and the sales person asked him to take a look at their new line of cell phones. He did and the sales person convinced him that he should have a phone for protection when he was away from family and friends. When he arrived home and told me what had happened, and showed me the contract he had signed, I was furious and very concerned.
I immediately called Telus Mobility and explained that my son had Asperger's, which is high functioning autism, and didn't understand what he was signing and that he wasn't capable of understanding the consequences of the contract. I also explained that he lived on disability and couldn't afford a cell phone. Telus told me that his contract was legally binding and that he would need to keep up the payments or damage his credit rating [...] We received many threatening letters and phone calls over the years and the final bill was for over $3600 [...]This behaviour needs to come to an end. Telus, and other companies like them, have no regard for the public or for common decency; their bottom line is all powerful. Please stop them from doing this to another family.” - Citizen submission, Batch 1, p. 273

“I was charged for 2 years of usage by Telus, when I did not even have a cell phone active. I had my phone deactivated but that was apparently not constituted as closing my account, and I was charged over $1600 to which is now in debt collections. It should have been obvious that if I had no phone, I would not need my account active, yet I was charged for my monthly plan, without consent, for the remainder of the year and an additional year beyond our contractual agreement.” - Citizen submission, Batch 2, p. 41

Find more stories like these in the report, at http://openmedia.ca/upgradeCanada

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet. Take action now

View all campaigns
Take action now! Sign up to be in the loop Donate to support our work