From a consumer standpoint, there are few things more frustrating than cellphone contracts. Canadians already pay among the highest cellphone fees in the world, then there are those long contracts, roaming charges, cancellation fees, fighting with your provider — it’s a headache.
What rights have you got?
Naturally, a contract has to be legal, but there are other rules in place to protect customers. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Wireless Code was created in 2013 to protect subscribers from some of the more egregious exploitation at the hands of cellphone companies.
However, it doesn’t protect all Canadians. If your current cellphone contract came into effect before December 2, 2013, only some of the Code’s protections apply to you now. Others will come into effect later.
Here are some of the basics:
- Contract clarity: The Code says companies are required to offer contracts, policies and other documents in plain, easy-to-understand language.
- Roaming and data caps: we’ve all heard those stories about someone who used their cellphone on vacation and came home to a bill for thousands of dollars. Now, roaming rates are capped at $100 and data-overage fees max out at $50.
- Unlocking: many carriers lock their devices to restrict their use in other countries or on other networks. The Code says you can have your phone unlocked within 90 days, or immediately if you paid for the device in full.
Am I still penalized for cancelling my contract?
It depends how far into the contract period you are.
You can now return your phone without a penalty within 15 days if you’re unsatisfied. After two years, you can cancel your contract at no cost, even if you agreed to a longer one.
In between, there will likely be a cost. It depends on several factors, including whether you got the phone free upfront and how much time is left in your contract. The contract itself should explain how to calculate a cancellation cost.
I’m getting charged for ‘premium’ texting content. Is this a scam?
This is a costly problem for many Canadians. You get texts like daily trivia, jokes, horoscopes or others, and are seeing additional charges on your bill. For some customers, this can add up to hundreds of dollars.
Canada’s “Big Three” cellphone companies — Bell, Rogers and Telus — have gotten into hot water over these charges. In 2012, the Competition Bureau sued them for a collective $31 million for allowing third-party companies to mislead customers into paying for those so-called "premium" services and then taking a percentage of those charges. In 2015, Rogers agreed to refund more than $5 million in those ill-gotten funds.
They’re not necessarily scams though. Check very carefully before you sign up for any service that sends you ringtones, horoscopes, jokes, or any other content. Never assume it’s free.
The CRTC Wireless Code
5 things you should know about CRTC's new cellphone contract rules