When a Canadian tried to cancel his cellphone contract after his legs were crushed in a freak accident and he lost steady income, he was allegedly told "you would have needed to die" to be let off the hook.

When the mother of a grown man with Asperger's syndrome tried to cut the cord on a three-year contract her son had activated, she said they were forced to pay $3,600, even though he was on disability income and not capable of understanding what he'd signed up for.

'It's pretty clear that Canadians are being mistreated by cellphone carriers.' —Steve Anderson, OpenMedia

These two anecdotes, and many others, are part of a collection of cellphone horror stories that has been published by OpenMedia.ca, a Canadian non-profit that advocates for consumers' rights in the telecom and online realms.

OpenMedia's report, "Time for an upgrade: demanding choice in Canada's cellphone market," compiled the opinions of 2,859 participants over the past four months. It also puts forward a series of recommendations for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and Industry Canada as part of a proposed roadmap for change, as the CRTC re-writes Canada's wireless code.

OpenMedia found the most frequent complaint among Canadians who participated in its survey was that cellphone users feel they're being forced to accept poor and disrespectful customer service.


Canadians complained of poor customer service and being trapped in contracts by excessive termination fees. (CBC)

Contract holders surveyed also say they feel trapped in agreements because they're penalized by excessive termination fees that stick them with lengthy three-year commitments. They complained of automatic contract renewals and a lack of initial clarity when signing up.

Steve Anderson, executive director of OpenMedia, said Canadians pay some of the highest prices for cellphone service in a dysfunctional market that the CRTC needs to overhaul.

"It's pretty clear that Canadians are being mistreated by cellphone carriers," Anderson said.

"We wanted to ... really highlight that and make that very clear to both the government and the CRTC, both of which can help fix our broken cellphone market."

Anderson says the lack of choice in the Canadian market, which is dominated by three large carriers, is the leading cause for discontent.

OpenMedia says Industry Canada can take a lead role in ensuring the wireless spectrum is divvied out fairly to three new service providers.

CRTC public hearing concluded

During CRTC hearings in mid-February, testimony focused on items such as the length of cellphone contracts, locked devices and roaming and cancellation fees.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which lobbies on behalf of the industry, opposes a forced end to three-year contracts and argues that new rules could, in fact, be blamed for limiting consumers' choice.

A senior executive with Telus also told the hearings it would be difficult to apply any new wireless code to all existing contracts due to legal and practical reasons.

The regulator has suggested telecom companies would need to comply within six months of the code coming into force, but another executive with Rogers urged the rules be rolled out in stages.

The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services has reported a dramatic jump in the proportion of complaints related to wireless services since 2008, up from 31 per cent to 62 per cent.

The CRTC has also received angry comments about contracts directly from individual Canadians.