The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has established a Wireless Code that sets out national mandatory standards for wireless service providers. The code went into effect December 2, 2013. So for cellphone and other mobile device users, Christmas may have come early.
Here are some key features:
1. Application. The code will only apply to new cellphone or mobile device contracts signed (or renewed or significantly amended) on or after December 2. Existing contracts with providers will not be affected until June 3, 2015, the date on which the code is to apply to all contracts. However, that retroactive 2015 application is being challenged in court by service providers.
2. Two year contracts. Under the code, you have the right to cancel your contract without a cost (discussed below) after two years. Three year (and longer) contracts are gone. Although you may sign up for more, your right to cancel after two years will remain.
3. Cancellation fees. Generally, your cancellation fee will be the lesser of $50 and 10% of the remaining charges under your contract term (which, again, is limited to two years).
Cancellation fees are a different if you received a discount on the cost of your device. With longer term contracts you could get the latest smartphone or other device at very low upfront cost. The effect was to pay for the device through your service provider over the contract term (a subsidy of sorts). If you receive such a discount upfront as part of your contract, then the code limits your cancellation fee to an amount that cannot be greater than the amount of the discount, reduced each month over the term of your contract, or, where there is no fixed term, over twenty-four months (i.e., two years).
4. Roaming and data. We’ve all heard horror stories of bills in the thousands when a device is used while away on vacation. The code caps roaming charges to $100 per month and charges for going over data limits to $50 a month. In practice, you will get cut off when your usage exceeds these amounts and then have to opt in to go beyond.
5. Clarity. The code requires that contracts be in plain and clear language for consumers and summarize important information such as cancellation fees.
On the whole, it’s a step forward for consumer rights and an attempt to level the playing field between you and your rather large and powerful wireless provider who previously had been able to write most of its own rules and obfuscate how those rules impacted you.
Adam Kowalsky is an associate at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. For more articles, visit the library page at www.cobbjones.ca