Business

Phone companies pledge to simplify wireless contracts

Canada's major telecom companies — Rogers, Bell and Telus — and consumer advocacy groups are supporting national standards that would apply to cellphone and wireless device contracts, a hot-button issue for consumers.
Consumers often complain about not understanding their cellphone bills, its terms of use and how they are billed. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Canada's major telecom companies — Rogers, Bell and Telus — and consumer advocacy groups are supporting national standards that would apply to cellphone and wireless device contracts, a hot-button issue for consumers.

A national wireless code would help protect consumers no matter where they live in Canada, they said in their statement to the CRTC on Thursday.

"We believe that enforceable national wireless standards, applied consistently across Canada, would address the demand for consumer protection in the most economically and administratively efficient manner and give consumers the same rights and benefits equally across the country," the statement said.

Consumers often complain about not understanding their cellphone bills, its terms of use and how they are billed.

Provincial differences

The statement also said that even though five provinces have enacted or announced legislation, it's a patchwork of laws that will create inconsistent regulation and create increased compliance costs. It also notes that telecommunications is the exclusive domain of federal legislative and regulatory jurisdiction.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has asked for feedback on whether it needs to create a national wireless code to ensure that cellphone and mobile device customers are protected.

Rogers, Bell and Telus, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on behalf of the Consumers' Association of Canada and Canada without Poverty have a joint proposal on national standards to the telecom regulator.

Lawyer John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the CRTC has left a "vacuum you can hear from outer space on wireless issues."

"What they need to have is a national code on anything the provinces aren't doing," Lawford said from Ottawa.

"They should come up with a code that will at least meet provincial standards or go better and I am trusting the CRTC will do the right thing and do that," he said of the regulator.

Telus said wireless standards should be consumer friendly and easy to understand.

"Telus considers that it would be a tremendous benefit to all consumers if there was one simple, transparent and enforceable set of terms and conditions that apply to wireless contracts regardless of where you live in Canada."

New wireless carrier Wind Mobile said it strongly supports legislation that brings accountability and fairness to the Canadian wireless industry.

"Wind Mobile is making great strides toward creating a competitive wireless industry, but the big three are so entrenched that this type of legislation becomes necessary to ensure consumers are protected," said Anthony Lacavera, chairman and CEO of Wind Mobile.

Canadians can now complain about wireless services to a watchdog agency set up to mediate between consumers and the industry.

The commissioner for Complaints to Telecommunications Services says complaints jumped by 114 per cent in 2010-11 over the previous year, to more than 8,000 and most were about wireless services and related billing errors and contract disputes.

The agency is an independent, industry-financed body established by the federal government in 2007 to resolve consumer complaints against telecom companies.

Some provinces such as Quebec have put in place legislation that limits cancellation fees and stops companies from automatically renewing cellphone contracts.

The CRTC said it decided not to regulate the wireless sector back in 1994, convinced there was enough competition in the marketplace to provide Canadian consumers with a choice of services but recently said it will take another look at the issue.