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NDP MP Bruce Hyer, left, with party leader Jack Layton. Myer said most consumers don't even know they can switch cellphone providers without getting a new phone. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Hot on the heels of Apple announcing it will sell unlocked iPhones in Canada, an NDP MP has introduced a resolution that would force cellphone carriers to do the same with all the devices they sell.

Bruce Hyer, the MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, on Thursday tabled Bill C-560, the cellphone freedom act. The bill proposes three rules: cellphone carriers would be required to notify customers at the point of purchase whether a phone is locked to work only on their network; they would have to remove such a lock free of charge at any point after the conclusion of the customer's service contract; and they would have to remove it if the customer does not enter into a contract within six months of buying the device up front.

"Mobile phone customers should have the freedom to choose whether they want to be locked into a company's cell network or not," Hyer said in a statement.

"Right now, most consumers don't even know they [can] switch to another network without throwing out their phone and buying a new one, or trying to unlock their handset at some expensive aftermarket shop. Many resort to trying to download complicated instructions off the internet, but these can result in dead phones if used improperly."

Hyer also launched a "Don't Lock My Freedom" website in conjunction with the bill.

Canada's major wireless carriers typically sell mobile devices locked to their network on top of multi-year contracts. Some carriers have said this is to ensure that the devices work properly on their network, so they can support them if problems occur.

Some compatibility issues remain

Switching carriers and using the same phone was generally not an issue until recently since Canada's big three providers used different technologies. However, Bell and Telus launched a new network last year that is largely similar to the Rogers network, so most newer phones will work on all three.

Some compatibility obstacles still remain as Canada's new wireless companies — Wind, Moblicity and Public Mobile — have networks that run on different frequencies from Bell, Rogers and Telus. The new companies, however, don't offer phones with contracts tied to them and require customers to pay the full cost up front.

Some phone manufacturers are beginning to push against locks imposed by carriers. In January, internet giant Google began selling its Nexus One phone directly to consumers online, unlocked and without a carrier contract. Apple is now doing the same in Canada with its wildly successful iPhone, which is also available locked and with a contract through Bell, Rogers, Telus and their subsidiaries.

The federal government's recently introduced copyright reform legislation, Bill C-32, seeks to enshrine consumers' rights to unlock their mobile devices, an act that is already perfectly legal. Consumer advocates have said Canada needs to go further with laws such as those prescribed in Bill C-560.

A number of countries have instituted such legal obligations, ranging from requiring the carrier to unlock phones immediately when asked by a customer to doing so at the conclusion of term contracts. Some countries, such as Singapore, outlaw locking phones entirely.