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What are the protective laws around cell phones?

Both the federal government and some provincial governments have enacted legislation designed to protect cell phone customers from entering less than desirable agreements with wireless services providers.

This legislation was enacted in response to many consumer complaints about tricky contracts, lack of transparency, hidden fees and long contracts.

CRTC Wireless Code

The federal government enacted the Wireless Code in 2013. The code is a mandatory code of conduct for cell phone and data providers.

The code introduced changes in the way cell phone companies were allowed to make deals with Canadian consumers. Those changes include among other things:

  • The ability to cancel a cell phone contract after two years instead of the three years for which the cell phone companies usually bound consumers;
  • The wireless contract must be in plain language so consumers can understand to what terms they are agreeing;
  • The ability to cancel your contract and return your phone at no cost, within 15 days and specific usage limits, if you are unhappy with your service;
  • The ability to have your phone unlocked after 90 days, or immediately if you paid in full for your phone, at the rate specified by the service provider, upon request;
  • The right to receive a notification when you are roaming in a different country, telling you what the rates are for voice services, text messages, and data usage.

This federal legislation affects all cell phone providers. Even where the provinces have their own legislation regulating cell phone companies, wireless providers must still comply with all the rules the code sets out.

Do the provinces have their own legislation that protects consumers?

Some provinces like Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec have protective consumer legislation for wireless providers, despite the federal legislation that is now in place. Some of the legislation has been enacted only in the last few years.

What does the provincial legislation cover?

An example of a provincial legislation is the Manitoba Consumer Protection Amendment Act (Cell Phones). The act outlines the duties of cell phone providers. An example of duties of the wireless provider is contract a requirement, meaning what the cell phone provider has to contractually include and explain in the contract, which include such items as:

  • The customer's name and address;
  • The date the contract was made, and where it was made;
  • The term of the contract expressed in days, weeks, months or years, and its expiry date;
  • The minimum monthly cost of the contract;
  • An itemized list of all costs included in the minimum monthly cost;
  • A description of the cell phone services provided for in the minimum monthly cost.

Provinces also often also regulate what the cell phone provider can do without consent from the customer.

For example, according to the Ontario Wireless Services Agreement Act, a wireless service provider can make changes without your consent when:

  • The change benefits the customer;
  • The amount that the service is used remains constant or increases;
  • The cost of services or items has not increased and the length of the contract stays the same; and
  • The customer received notice of the changes in writing 30 to 90 days before they come into effect.

You should consult the federal Wireless Code as well as the applicable cell phone protection legislation that applies to your province or territory for more information.

Read more:

The CRTC Wireless Code

Checklist: Do You Know Your Rights as a Wireless Consumer?