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New wireless code favours consumers, but is it too good to be true?

Having been a sufferer of wireless rage (a state of all-consuming anger at one’s cell phone, contract, or wireless service provider) in the past, I can see how many of the new guidelines will alleviate financial and emotional stress for Canadians who use cell phones. About 26 million Canadians have wireless devices; even if one tenth of those are frustrated or have had to pay unexpected charges and fees for their cell phones, this change spells a major decrease in unrest.

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 19, 2013

No cancellation fees after two years. Capped data and roaming charges. Trial periods. Clear contract language and notifications. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true?

These are some of the regulations introduced in a new wireless code which promises to make the wireless market more dynamic and consumer-friendly.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) created the code in response to consumers’ complaints and feedback on wireless services. Essentially, it clarifies the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of service providers.

Having been a sufferer of wireless rage (a state of all-consuming anger at one’s cell phone, contract, or wireless service provider) in the past, I can see how many of the new guidelines will alleviate financial and emotional stress for Canadians who use cell phones. About 26 million Canadians have wireless devices; even if one tenth of those are frustrated or have had to pay unexpected charges and fees for their cell phones, this change spells a major decrease in unrest.

My last mobile phone experience triggered a particularly strong case of wireless rage (I was angry at my phone, my contract, and my provider). I opted for a basic, no-frills phone on a three-year contract. My plan was only about $25 per month, offered unlimited text messaging, free calling times, and a few other perks. I paid part of the phone cost when I signed up.

By the end of the first year, I was ready to turn in. I had to take the phone in numerous times to be fixed, was told it would cost hundreds of dollars to end my contract even after my second year, and there was little I could do about the phone after the warranty ended. My provider would not even let me upgrade to a new phone without completely buying out my contract. It was frustrating, to say the least.

The new rules favour the customer over the service provider. Early cancellation fees cannot be more than the “device subsidy,” which is the suggested retail price less the amount originally paid for the phone by the customer. The fee also has to decrease every month over a maximum period of two years, so that by the end of those years the fee is zero.

In my case, the cancellation fee after one year of my contract would have been less than $100 had such regulations been in effect. After the second year I would have been free to walk away. Or, with the introduction of trial periods, if I noticed issues within the first 15 days, I could have returned the phone entirely, free of charge.

The wireless code clearly outlines a number of other regulations which should make for a much more positive experience for consumers. What I like about the idea is that it basically lays out a code of behaviour for corporate entities.

Optimistically, what this looks like is a return (at least in the realm of wireless communications) to the idea that the customer “is always right.” Consumers have a right to be treated fairly, and this should be a priority for any company.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling the perfect world we might hope for is still out of reach.

Corporations are not human beings, after all. So if the CRTC’s wireless code denies them a few hectares of profit margin, they will be willing and capable of finding other ways to gain at the consumer’s expense.

I would like to believe that will not be the case. However, when something sounds too good to be true, it often is. And in the case of wireless service, it seems that most of us want it and will put up with all kinds of frustration (and cost) to get it.

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