An Ontario politician is launching an effort to curb what he says are the unfair billing practices of wireless service providers and is urging Ottawa and the other provinces to join the fight.
Liberal David Orazietti introduced draft legislation Tuesday that he says would protect consumers from "unfair practices" such as high fees and confusing contracts.
More than 22 million Canadians use cellphones or smartphones, including 77 per cent of Ontario residents, Orazietti says. And according to a recent survey, Canadians are paying some of the highest rates among industrialized countries, including the U.S. and the U.K.
"The Better Business Bureau indicated that this year, this was their No. 1 complaint," Orazietti said.
"There are ongoing challenges with respect to transparency and regulations in this industry, and we want to see changes to that and greater protection for consumers."
If passed, Orazietti's private member's bill would reduce cancellation fees, make advertising regarding the costs of using a cellphone more transparent and clarify contracts so that Ontario consumers know what they're paying for.
It would force companies to warn users when they're close to their limit and that they may be zapped with extra charges. Under the proposed rules, users would also be able to "unlock" any phone once it's paid for — or no longer bound by a contract — so that consumers can switch service providers without buying a new device.
Quebec implemented legislation in July that limits cancellation fees and stops companies from automatically renewing contracts. Steps are being taken in both the United States and Europe to rein in extra charges, Orazietti said.
Private member's bills rarely become law, but Ontario's governing Liberals have previously backed two of Orazietti's bills, including a ban on smoking in cars transporting kids.
Consumer Services Minister John Gerretsen acknowledged that cellphone services are among the top 10 complaints to his ministry but wouldn't say if the government would support the bill.
"We'll certainly take a look at this bill, work with them and see if we can't improve the protection of consumers," he said.
Consumer advocates want the other provinces and the federal government to get involved in levelling the playing field between cellphone users and wireless companies, saying it will boost competition.
The telecommunications industry is regulated by the federal government, but contracts fall under provincial jurisdiction, they said.
"Canadian consumers have for a long time been victims of the nefarious marketing practices of the wireless telephone companies," said Mel Fruitman of the Consumers' Association of Canada.
"Overpaying in many cases, being locked into charges that they feel are improper, that they can't get out of even when the marketplace has moved on, when there are other options available to them. They are stuck."
Among 11 countries, Canada has the highest minimum rates for postpaid cellphone service — $67.50 per month, according to a recent survey by the New America Foundation. That compares to $59.99 per month in the U.S. and $32.40 in the United Kingdom.