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CRTC levels playing field on customer migration

Reviewing decisions by independent regulators, as on Internet billing, just creates more political pressure

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick

As the CRTC makes it easier for Canadian consumers to switch Internet, cable, phone or wireless service providers, it's simultaneously asking the industry whether it should even bother.

On Friday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission again waded into the issue of how it should deal with consumers who want to leave their service providers.

It decided customers should be able to switch with one phone call to a new provider, thereby avoiding attempts by their current provider to delay the process. The regulator had earlier ruled that transfers should take less than two business days for cable, Internet and phone service, and less than 2½ hours for cellphones.

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At a time when new competitors are struggling to convince customers to switch, it makes sense for existing providers to delay, sometimes for weeks. They can use that time to offer discounts or other offers to try to keep clients from leaving.

"It's a great decision for the consumer; it's a win for the consumer," said Dave Dobbin, president and chief executive officer of Mobilicity, a new wireless company that benefits from the decision. "The CRTC doesn't get a lot of high fives, but today every Canadian consumer should give them a high five."

At the same time it made the ruling, however, the commission begun a proceeding on "on whether these safeguards are still in the best interests of consumers and whether they limit a consumer's ability to receive offers from a service provider," and asked for industry submissions on the issue.

Prior to today's ruling, BCE Inc. had asked the commission to implement "symmetry" across the industry. Previously, cable companies could cancel phone companies' existing home-phone customers, whereas phone companies offering TV service such as Bell had to wait for the consumer to call their provider to cancel. Bell asked either that this disadvantage be removed or applied equally to its cable rivals.

Under the new rules, consumers can still call and cancel the services themselves if they wish, leaving them free to negotiate new terms.

The issue of customer transfers is crucial for the industry, as new wireless companies crowd into major cities, offering steep discounts; phone companies start building high-quality Internet protocol TV to compete with entrenched cable rivals; and cable companies such as Quebecor Inc.'s Vidéotron Ltée begin to offer wireless cellphone service.

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