Canadians are being asked by the federal telecom regulator to help write a national wireless code
that will oblige carriers to write clear contracts for the sale of wireless devices and services.
“Our goal is to make sure that Canadians have the tools they need to make informed choices in a competitive marketplace,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC).
“In the past, Canadians have told us that contracts are confusing, and that terms and conditions can vary greatly from one company to another. We are asking them to assist us in developing a code that will help them better understand their rights as consumers and the responsibilities of wireless companies.”
The commission doesn’t regulate cellphone rates customers pay. However, a code might demand advertised prices be expressed clearly.
John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advoacy Centre (PIAC) made that point in approving the CRTC's move. "There’s a lot of things people can control for (in a code) including the clarity of their contracts and termination penalties that will make a huge difference" to subscribers, he said.
The commission concluded that a national code is better than having provincial governments pass legislation that will vary from region to region, a point made by carriers who have been urging the commission to act.
Officials at carriers were quick to approve of the CRTC's decision. “A consistent national standard is good for consumers," said Shawn Hall
media realtions. "It ensures all Canadians enjoy the same safeguards in terms of service. A provincial system with 12 regional regimes dealing with the same issues is inefficient and unfair to Canadians.”
"Mobilicity supports the CRTC's move as we have been at the forefront of asking for consumer protection in this regard for some time," Stewart Lyons, the carrier's president, said in a statement. "Bell certainly sees a national code that applies to all wireless service providers across Canada as the best approach, both for consumers and the industry itself," the company said in a statement. "It will ensure one, efficient national set of uniform standards, rather than the inconsistent provincial standards we have now."
Ken Engelhart, Rogers' senior vice-president of regulatory affairs disagrees with a suggestion that carriers should have to notify wireless subscribers they’ve exceeded data or voice limits. That’s expensive, he said. Rather, it should be up to subscribers to monitor their usage through online tools, as Rogers
provides for its customers.
As for enforcing the code, he said that if a carrier files the code as part of its tariff with the CRTC it will be legally biding.
Quebec already has provincial legislation covering wireless contracts, and several provinces are thinking of doing the same. To avoid conflicts, the CRTC could exempt provinces with legislation from its code.
“While this is a positive initiative for consumers, we need to make sure it isn't watered down in the end,” said Wind Mobile CEO and chair Anthony Lacavera in a statement. “Canadians need a code of conduct that is both mandatory and with enforceable consequences for breaches,"