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Wireless Code Hearing PIAC Summary – Day One (February 11, 2013)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) kicked off its public hearing to create a mandatory code for mobile wireless services today. Some of the key issues focused on by the Commissioners included two- versus three-year contracts, unlocking, prepaid services, and the effect of the Code on provincial laws that currently deal with wireless contracts.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Consumers Association of Canada, and the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia (PIAC/CAC/COSCO) – represented by John Lawford, Janet Lo, Jean-François Léger, and Alysia Lau – presented first. The group emphasized the need for a mandatory Wireless Code to address consumer complaints and bolster consumer confidence in their wireless carriers. The presentation reviewed the CRTC Working Document, focusing on: mandating notifications for and caps on additional charges, prohibiting unilateral changes of the contract by wireless providers, clarifying an early termination fee that is based on phone subsidies provided only, allowing consumers to unlock their phones immediately for a reasonable fee, and ensuring that CCTS can effectively enforce the Code.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) followed PIAC/CAC/COSCO. The Association sought a Code that would balance market forces and regulation, and emphasized that the Code should not be so onerous that it would hamper effective competition. Certain sections in the CRTC Working Document that the CWTA found too restrictive were: notification and caps on additional charges, unlocking, and prohibitions on carrier changes to contracts. The Association also promoted the implementation of a national Code that would supersede provincial consumer protection laws.

Following the CWTA, Union des consommateurs presented its comments on the Working Document, applauding the creation of a national Wireless Code and advocating for its coexistence with provincial legislation (including Quebec’s Bill 60) already in place. The Commission’s questions to Union focused especially on the implementation and results of Bill 60 in Quebec. For instance, Union des consommateurs shared that it did not see an increase in prices for wireless services after the implementation of the Bill 60 rules. Union des consommateurs also supported the sale of unlocked phones, the implementation of the Code as a whole (as opposed to different segments), and the imposition of mandatory notifications and caps on additional charges. Finally, it proposed that consumers be permitted to complain directly to CCTS rather than first having to resolve an issue with their wireless providers instead.

Finally, TELUS marked the final presenter on Monday. The carrier supported certain aspects of the Code, but disagreed with other sections, such as the imposition of mandatory notifications and caps on additional charges. While TELUS supported having notifications for data usage and roaming charges, it asserted that notifications for voice and text usage would be difficult and expensive to set up. The carrier also found that spending caps were too prescriptive, pointing out that consumers who did want limits on their usage could opt for prepaid services, and encouraged the Commission to allow notifications and caps to develop as elements of competition in the marketplace. TELUS completes its appearance tomorrow, before the Commission moves on to other parties.

 

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