Man using phone

Phone unlocking charges banned by Canadian regulator

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced updates to the Wireless Act, which will put an end to unlocking fees and the selling of pre-locked phones.

From 1 December 2017, service providers will no longer be allowed to sell locked mobile devices, or charge individuals and small businesses to unlock their phones to use on a rival network. All new devices must be available unlocked from the day they are bought.

Mobile service providers often lock phones and other devices in order to prevent customers leaving for a rival network before they have paid off the price of their smartphone. Smartphone prices are often heavily subsidised over contract periods.

Unlocked devices can be used on any network by switching SIM cards.

The ‘Big Three’ service providers in Canada – BCE, Rogers Communications and Telus – all charge $50 for their unlocking service. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars are made every year from unlocking fees.

The CRTC will have also clarified rules already in place under the Wireless Code, confirming that account holders on shared plans have responsibility for consenting to data overage and roaming charges beyond caps, and service providers cannot unilaterally change wireless plans during contracts.

Customers will now also be able to cancel their contract within 15 days at no extra cost if they have used less than half their monthly usage limits.

“The changes and clarifications we are announcing today will give Canadians additional tools to make informed choices about their wireless services and take advantage of competitive offers in the marketplace,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, outgoing chairman of the CRTC.

In order to devise the new regulations, the CRTC held public proceedings in which wireless companies, consumer groups, academics, accessibility groups and ordinary citizens provided their views on the effectiveness of the Wireless Code.

When the Wireless Code was first introduced in 2013, it eliminated three-year phone contracts and minimised data overage fees. The code was fought by the Big Three service providers in court, who argued that the regulator could not retroactively change three-year contracts.

It has been a good week for mobile service consumers, as earlier this week roaming charges were scrapped across the EU. EU citizens travelling within the union will now be able to call, text and browse the internet on mobile devices at the same price they pay in their home country.

The European Commission described the end of these charges as one of the “greatest successes” of the EU.

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