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CRTC Wireless Code Hearing PIAC Summary – Day Five (February 15, 2013)

Three remaining wireless carriers and the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) closed Day Five – the final day – of the CRTC’s hearing on a mandatory code for mobile wireless services.

The Manitoba carrier, MTS Allstream, was able to share its views on the CRTC Working Document as well as on implementation of Manitoba’s Bill 35 in relation to contracts for cell phone services. MTS supported many provisions of the proposed Code, but feared that certain aspects were too prescriptive. For instance, while it supported both notifications and caps on additional fees for data usage, it advised against the imposition of any prescribed amount and proposed that carriers ought to set their own respective thresholds. The carrier also emphasized the need for adequate time to implement the Code, proposing up to 18 months to install set notifications. In discussing Bill 35, MTS said it found that general consumer reaction to the provincial rules was positive, and that customers did not complain that they were receiving too much information. It also noted the benefits of the new early termination fee formula. When asked by the Commission whether it has raised its monthly rates for services as a result of Bill 35, MTS said that it has not and chose, rather, to absorb the costs of implementing the provincial legislation.

WIND Mobile emphasized its unique business model, and praised the creation of the Code, which would hopefully facilitate the ability of consumers to switch between carriers. Notably, WIND opposed the 3-year contracts typically offered by the incumbent wireless carriers, arguing that they were anti-competitive and effectively locked in customers, despite open criticism of the 3-year length by consumers, consumer groups and the Competition Bureau. The carrier also suggested that early termination fees should not be calculated from inflated retail phone prices or short-term promotional discounts. With respect to additional fees, WIND said that it has already implemented certain notifications for roaming and data usage as well as a roaming data cap of 200 MB. It estimated that many national bill shock tools, including certain caps and notifications, could be readily set up within 6 to 8 months.

Québecor highlighted certain themes in its presentation, including that Bill 60 worked well in Quebec and that the CRTC ought to reconsider whether there was a need to impose further costs on providers that were subject to provincial rules. The carrier further objected to providing Personalized Information Summaries before consumers sign a contract, allowing consumers to refuse changes to their contracts, and imposing notifications and caps for additional fees. It agreed that certain aspects of the Code, such as unlocking, could actually promote greater innovation in the wireless industry. Overall, however, Québecor advocated for greater flexibility for wireless carriers to be creative in their own offerings.

CCTS focused specifically on enforcement of the Code and assessment of the Code’s effectiveness in its presentation. It continued to stress its mandate as an ombudsman to resolve individual complaints, and expressed concern about possibilities of expanding its powers or addressing collective complaints in a “class action” manner. It agreed to administer the Code and gather data on complaint issues related to the Code and made several recommendations regarding the clarity of the Working Document. CCTS also noted that it was more practical – at an operational level – to interpret one national code rather than several in addressing consumer complaints.

While the presentation phase of the Wireless Code hearing is officially closed, online comments will be accepted until 5:00 pm Vancouver time tonight.

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