Fed up with your wireless contract? CRTC wants to hear from you for new code

Canadians who say they’re fed up with confusing wireless contracts for their cellphones and tablets are being asked to help develop a national retail code for wireless services.

The CRTC says it’s asking for help because consumers have said their monthly contracts are confusing and the terms and conditions can vary greatly from one wireless company to another.

“Our goal is to make sure that Canadians have the tools they need to make informed choices in a competitive marketplace,” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a news release Thursday.

The federal telecom regulator said consumers are being asked for their opinions on the terms and conditions that should be addressed by such a code and how the rules should be enforced, for example.

The CRTC said a national code will help Canadians better understand their rights as consumers as well as set out the responsibilities of wireless companies.

Contract terms and cancellations have been constant hot-button issues for consumers.

A consumer advocacy group, which supports a national code, welcomed the move by the CRTC and also its decision to hold a public hearing. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said customer service and contract problems in the industry are legion and affect all wireless users.

“Nearly all Canadians agree that wireless providers should have clearer contracts, increased pricing transparency and eliminate ‘bill shock’ for unexpected charges,” said lawyer John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“This is a historic chance for Canadians finally to get the service they deserve from their wireless provider, no matter which one they choose.”

Canadians can participate online or write to the CRTC to give their views. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter Jan. 28 in Gatineau, Que.

Canada’s major telecom companies — Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) — and consumer advocacy groups all support the idea of national standards that would apply to wireless devices. However they haven’t always agreed on how those rules would work.

Telus said a consistent set of national standards will benefit consumers.

“They ensure that all Canadians enjoy the same safeguards, same terms of service,” said Telus spokesman Shawn Hall, adding each province having its own standards and rules would be “inefficient and could be unfair for Canadians.”

“Rather than having 12 regional debates about this, it makes sense to come together to have one national conversation that ensures all Canadians are treated the same,” Hall said from Vancouver.

Rogers said consumers will have more of a standard contract.

“So it means less for them to worry about, less for them to figure out, simpler more comparable plans between companies,” said Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory at Rogers.

Engelhart said wireless carriers were starting to see more and more provincial legislation to cover cellphone contracts and it varied from province to province.

“In our view, it’s better to have a federal regulator that has an understanding of the business crafting the regulations,” he said.

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

Engelhart said the CRTC never really regulated terms and conditions of cellphone contracts, but for a short time regulated rates.

Wind Mobile said it also supports a code of conduct.

“Canadians need to be protected from deliberately confusing contract terms, abusive termination fees and hidden charges,” said Anthony Lacavera, chairman and CEO of Wind Mobile.

But Wind Mobile did sound a warning note.

“While this is a positive initiative for consumers, we need to make sure it isn’t watered down in the end,” Lacavera said.