Yesterday, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chairman Jean-Pierre Blais went on Twitter to chat with Canadians about the latest regulations issued to govern the telecom industry. It was important stuff, new limits on the kind of overage, roaming and cancellation fees that can cost Canadians dearly.
Sadly, the CRTC only has about 8,500 followers on Twitter, so there's a good chance you missed it. Also, the new rules had been announced so far in advance that you may not have been aware they weren't actually in effect until now. So here's a Q&A of what it means for the different types of wireless customer:
Do you have a cellphone?
No – The only thing that may have changed is your reason for not having a cellphone: If you were scared off by high roaming rates or long contracts, things have gotten better on that front.
Yes – Congratulations! There is a new list or things the wireless carriers can't do to you any more, chief among them: Cancellation fees on contracts in their third year.
The major telecom firms are taking the CRTC to court to litigate exactly how this will work, but the new rules state you can still sign up to a term deal longer than two years, but on any future or existing contracts the wireless company cannot charge you cancellation fees after 24 months. Also, those cancellation fees have to decline over the months, so you shouldn't pay the same break rate at two months or 23 months anymore.
I don't have an annual contract, I'm on month to month.
Did you know that monthly data overage and roaming rates have now been capped? Now, if you gobble up a huge amount of mobile data your penalty fee cannot exceed $50. Likewise, if you use international data while travelling there will be no price-shocking thousand-dollar charge when you get home: Roaming rates are capped at $100. Also, you now have a seven-day grace period to top up your prepaid account and retain your balance.
Great! So the government is telling wireless companies how much to charge me?
Hold on there, the Code does not mandate or regulate how much wireless firms can charge for things like data, or minutes. It just puts caps on certain previously unregulated overage charges.
I thought I had "unlimited" data, but now I'm supposed to pay extra fees for that?
The new CRTC rules mean any service marketed and sold to you as "unlimited" will actually mean without limit or extra costs. Yep, we need rules to enforce this.
How can I trust these contracts, aren't they tricky with the lawyer words?
The CRTC has stipulated that all contracts be in plain language, though when you read CRTC rules one starts to wonder if they know what that means.
I thought I got a great deal, but I just heard of a better one.
If you've had that phone or contract for fewer than 15 days you cancel the deal, and pay no penalty (there are usage limits on the no penalty thing).
What if I have a locked phone?
Even if you bought a subsidized phone, the seller must now provide a way to unlock the phone within 90 days. Likewise, if you paid full price, the phone must come unlocked or come with instructions on how to unlock it as soon as you want to.
How do I know if I'll get service in my area?
The Code compells carriers to provide easy to access maps of the complete wireless coverage area in the same place a customer might find warranty, fee schedule and other information.
What if my wireless carrier wants to change my contract terms and conditions?
You can now refuse any changes, unless those changes are good things like lowering the cost of your services or increasing things like bandwidth or other allowances.
I broke my phone, they repaired it, but I was charged while it was in the shop!
Not any more, your service must now be suspended during any downtime for repairs of a device that came as part of your wireless contract (with several catches: it has to be under warranty, or you didn't get a free replacement phone or you must be on the hook for cancellation fees).
What if I cancel my contract after two years, but I want to keep my number when I move my service?
Yeah... there's nothing in the code about any massive fees the carriers will charge you for that. Number portability is mandated, but the fees related to that are unregulated, still.