CRTC Announces New Wireless Code for Cellphones

By: Cliff Ritter on February 1, 2013

Cellphones and smartphones have become integral to Canadian life, but many users repeatedly face what is known as “cellphone shock.” Confusing contracts from cellphone providers leave many people surprised by extra charges on their bill and unsure of how to avoid them in the future. 

As a result, the CRTC has drafted what it calls the “wireless code,” a mandatory list of guidelines that cellphone providers must uphold to service their Canadian customers.  The CRTC compiled the legislation using public feedback from participating Canadians, and says the final version of the bill will be revealed by the spring.

The new cellphone rules will allow customers to put a limit on how much they are allowed to spend each month, and use monitoring tools to track how close they are to that limit.  As they approach their limits, carriers must suspend services that will charge extra fees to prevent users from exceeding their self-imposed monthly restrictions.  The wireless code authorizes cellphone providers to clarify cancellation fees, remove fine print from contract conditions, and draft agreements that use clear and easy to understand language to minimize confusion about cellphone charges.

Janet Lo, spokesperson for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says the new regulations are a first in Canada.  She says the CRTC deserves credit for attempting to protect cellphone users from unexpected fees and rate hikes.  Still in question is whether the new rules will apply to new contracts or all existing plans, but Lo says her organization is lobbying for the latter.

We think the code needs to apply to everybody, not just new contracts.  Otherwise, consumers who just signed their contract the day before the code comes into force will need to wait another three years before they can benefit from the content of the code.”

The federal wireless code will complement but not supersede current provincial regulations.  This is to give cellphone users the option of either the federal or the provincial regulation, depending on which policy will save them more money.