Groups representing consumers have told the federal telecommunications regulator that it has to overhaul the way wireless carriers deal with customers through contracts as soon as possible.

“Wireless customers have spoken loudly and clearly that they want and demand better wireless contracts now,” John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advisory Centre (PIAC) told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Monday at the outset of a week long hearing into a CRTC proposed code of conduct.

Lawford also spoke for the Consumers’ Association of Canada and the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia.
“This industry has in the past been openly hostile to the regulator and more shockingly, disdainful of its own customers,” Lawford said. “Consumers have come here today in a spirit of trust that the wireless companies will adopt a new attitude and change their reality.

“We can heal the sickness that has crept into the wireless market,” Lawford added. “Consumers are sick of termination penalties designed to keep them locked into long-term contracts. Consumers are tired of locked handsets. Consumers are often in shock after opening a bill where roaming charges or overage fees have been applied.”

The groups say wireless subscribers should be notified when additional fees are added to wireless terms and be given tools to monitor and manage data and voice use. Unilateral contract changes should be forbidden and “long term contracts” – meaning contacts over two years – should be limited. The groups also call for rules to make it easier for subscribers to change carriers.

The hearing comes at a time when enterprises are increasingly adopting bring your own device policies (BYOD), which sometimes means staff no longer have plans negotiated by their employer, Instead, they pick their own carrier and wireless plan and are reimbursed by the company.

As a result, the government policies carriers have to adhere to for wireless contracts are becoming increasingly important.

This week’s hearing is into the CRTC’s proposed wireless code, which it came up with after several provincial governments began issuing regulations or laws under consumer protection legislation.

The wireless industry responded by urging the CRTC to issue a national code so carriers don’t face differing rules across the country.