GATINEAU - They’re confused, angry and just won`t take it anymore. So, as first reported by Cartt.ca yesterday morning, the CRTC has taken the unprecedented action of calling on the public to help it create a comprehensive code of conduct for wireless service providers.
Input will be accepted until November 20, 2012 and the public consultation process will begin on January 28, 2013, in Gatineau, Quebec. The Commission will also be announcing shortly details regarding an online consultation to further promote discussion among Canadians on the issues and questions raised by its proceeding.
"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 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."
Canadians have been invited to share their views on:
- The terms and conditions that should be addressed by a code for cellphones and mobile devices
- to whom the code should apply
- how the code should be enforced, and
- how the code's effectiveness should be assessed (A preliminary list of provisions the code could cover is listed further below).
Led by Telus, the Big Three all support the idea of national standards for wireless contract terms but haven’t yet come to a consensus on the new rules and how they should be applied. As expected, other industry players were quick to step up and voice their support for the new code.
This is a victory for consumers, and recognition by regulators that Canadians have been victimized by traditional providers,” said Tony Lacavera, Chairman and CEO of Wind. “Canadians need to be protected from deliberately confusing contract terms, abusive termination fees and hidden charges. Wind has been championing clarity and simplicity since we launched in the Canadian market, and we intend to work with the CRTC to develop a code that stops the bullying and creates a level competitive playing field.”
Lacavera cautioned that while the hearing is positive news, it’s important to ensure the new code of conduct does not become watered down in the end.
“Canadians need a code of conduct that is both mandatory and with enforceable consequences for breaches," he added. "We believe in clarity and simplicity: no hidden fees or fine print, no punitive cancellation charges, and contracts written in plain English. All Canadian cell phone users should be entitled to this. But it has to have teeth."
Public lobby group OpenMedia.ca also said in a release it welcomed the consultation and noted that that with only “three large companies controlling 94% of the cell phone market in Canada, there simply isn’t enough choice to ensure Canadians are getting a fair deal.”
It charges that from price-gouging to tight contracts, Canadians have been targeted by unfair practices for a long time.
“We already pay some of the highest cell phone fees and are forced into some of the most punitive, long-term contracts in the industrialized world. We’re pleased the CRTC is making plans to protect Canadians,” said OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson.
Anderson said his group will be scrutinizing the results of the proceeding. “We don’t want to enter into a situation where strong provincial rules (in places like Manitoba and Quebec) are superseded by weaker national rules.”
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) also called the move good news for all Canadian consumers of wireless services.
"Nearly all Canadians agree that wireless providers should have clearer contracts, increased pricing transparency and eliminate "bill shock" for unexpected charges," said John Lawford, Counsel for PIAC.
"This is a historic chance for Canadians finally to get the service they deserve from their wireless provider, no matter which one they choose," he added
The CRTC has provided a preliminary list of provisions (below) that could be included in the code, but is also welcoming suggestions of any other provisions that would benefit Canadians.
Preliminary list of provisions for a Code of Conduct for Wireless Providers
1) Clarity of contract terms and conditions
• a provision that contracts must be written in plain language
• a provision that sets out specific issues that must be addressed in a contract to ensure clarity and completeness, and
• a provision that sets out how and when service providers must provide contracts or service agreements to customers
2) Changes to contract terms and conditions
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which a service provider may amend contract terms for mobile wireless services
3) Contract cancellation, expiration and renewal
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which consumers may terminate their mobile wireless contracts early, including how cancellation fees may be applied, and
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which contracts may expire or be renewed automatically
4) Clarity of advertised prices
• a provision that addresses clarity of advertised prices of services included in a contract, such as monthly and one-time charges for mobile wireless services, including optional services, devices, data and roaming, and any associated fees, and
• a provision that service providers may not charge consumers for optional mobile wireless services they have not ordered
5) Application of the Code to bundles of telecommunications services
• a provision that the wireless code would apply equally to mobile wireless services purchased separately or as part of a bundle of telecommunications and broadcasting distribution services
6) Notification of additional fees
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which a provider must notify customers that they have exceeded the limits of their service agreements and will incur additional fees, and
• a provision that consumers with capped or metered billing of mobile wireless services be provided with adequate tools to monitor usage
7) Privacy policies
• a provision that addresses how service providers must disclose, and notify customers of amendments to, their privacy policies
8) Hardware warranties and related issues
• a provision that addresses how service providers disclose hardware warranty policies and extended warranty policies
• a provision that addresses how service charges will apply while the handset is being repaired, and
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which a handset may be unlocked
9) Loss or theft of hardware
• a provision that addresses how service charges and contract terms will be applied if the customer's handset is lost or stolen
10) Security deposits
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which a service provider may request a security deposit
• a provision that establishes a maximum amount for security deposits, and
• a provision that establishes the conditions under which a service provider must return security deposits
• a provision that addresses the conditions under which a service provider may disconnect mobile wireless services