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Wireless Code Hearing PIAC Summary – Day Four (February 14, 2013)

The CRTC Commissioners began Day Four of the Wireless Code hearing by pressing Bell Canada on its positions with respect to the CRTC’s Working Document . Bell emphasized that it was a wireless service provider, not a handset retailer, and that cheaper phones provided for fixed-term contracts were merely “reduced retail price” or “economic incentives” to encourage customers to sign three-year contracts. At the same time, it did not prefer to separate the financing of a handset from the provision of wireless services because it did not want the liability of a Bell phone failing to function on another carrier’s network. Bell also argued that the format of the Personalized Information Summary should not be too prescriptive so that carriers could employ their own marketing strategies. When asked whether manufacturers charged more to provide unlocked phones, Bell stated that it did not think it would cost more or less to have phones locked or unlocked. However, it emphasized that “even if all manufacturers offered to sell unlocked phones, [it] would not buy them,” insisting that it needed locked phones to prevent fraud and churn.

The Commission also heard a presentation from the Minister for Service Alberta, who advocated for a strong Code that would protect consumers from bill shock. The Minister emphasized the need for plain language, clear disclosure of costs (particularly the standardization of data units – be it megabytes or gigabytes), notifications and caps on additional fees, no charge for incoming calls, and protection of privacy. He also said that he saw no reason why devices should not be sold unlocked. When asked by the CRTC, the Minister agreed that a potential $5,000 “penalty” for non-compliance with the Code was too lenient, and suggested an amount close to the $500,000 mark.

Vaxination Informatique brought some new ideas to the public proceeding, advocating for the abolition of fixed-term contracts altogether. The presenter’s position was that this would lead to greater competition and lower prices. Vaxination also argued that data ought to be presented according to a standardized unit, be it megabyte or gigabyte. While the presenter supported the concept of notifications and caps, it advised against setting prescribed amounts or thresholds, underlining that carriers ought to be given the flexibility to set their own thresholds. Finally, Vaxination also promoted the sale of unlocked handsets.

Public Mobile argued against the application of the Code to its prepaid services. It underlined its low-cost business model and argued that requirements to provide paper bills, provide metered minute notifications and allow a mandatory notice period before suspending services would increase costs for many of their low-income customers. The carrier also stressed the Code in itself would not be a substitute for a truly competitive market.

In its presentation, SaskTel emphasized that customers foremost value convenience and price, and that it would not be practical for the Code to address “every conceivable problem” faced by customers. SaskTel also requested that the Commission consider the costs of acquiring a customer in setting out its termination fees, quoting that acquiring a customer typically costs $200. It also reiterated the need to consider carrier costs of updating billing or IT systems. With regards to implementation, the carrier estimated that the end of 2014 was a reasonable target, and emphasized that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to apply the Code retrospectively to pre-existing contracts.

The hearing reconvenes at 8:30 am on Friday, February 15.

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