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Wireless Code Hearing PIAC Summary – Day Two (February 12, 2013)

Day 2 of the CRTC Wireless Code hearing continued with TELUS’ appearance before the Commissioners. The carrier continued discussing caps for additional data usage, sharing that it already has a default $200 cap per phone on international data roaming. TELUS also agreed to explore a similar cap for domestic data, but emphasized that the $50 cap proposed by the CRTC was too low and that it would be too complex technically to allow consumers to set their own caps. The Commissioners asked TELUS to report with further details on those options and pressed the carrier on other issues, such as giving customers discounts on their wireless services once the customers have fully paid for their phones.

TELUS was followed by the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and OpenMedia.ca (CIPPIC/OpenMedia). CIPPIC/OpenMedia shared several “cell phone horror stories” they had received from Canadian consumers, and stressed that the Code should protect Canadians from exploitation by placing them on “equal footing” with providers and empowering them to take control of their wireless services. They advocated for: cooling off periods, prohibitions on unilateral wireless carrier changes to contracts (including fair use policies), prohibitions on three-year contracts, and the right to unlock one’s phone immediately for a reasonable fee.

Following CIPPIC/OpenMedia, Dr. Catherine Middleton and Dr. Tamara Shepherd from Ryerson University, as well as Dr. Barbara Crow from York University, presented their research on senior citizen and youth wireless consumers. The three presenters emphasized that although the creation of a wireless code was movement in a positive direction, it only represented one element of the need to increase accessibility to telecommunications services, particularly for vulnerable groups. They found that many senior citizens and youth showed enthusiasm in picking up and using different features of their phone. However, these groups encountered significant financial barriers in using these services, whose costs were not transparent to them. The presenters called for the use of simpler, easy-to-understand plans, lower service rates, and improved consumer education, particularly with respect to data usage.

Rogers Communications was the second wireless carrier to present at the hearing. The carrier disagreed with several aspects of the CRTC Working Document. For instance, it did not think carriers should be required to give customers a Personalized Information Summary with all the key information related to a customer’s plan. Rogers also opposed any caps on additional charges and only agreed to give two notifications for additional charges on data roaming. The carrier emphasized that options available in the marketplace would meet these consumer needs. Under questioning, Rogers also expanded on its purchase of handsets from manufacturers. It said that it typically paid 15 to 20% more for phones than US carriers paid. Rogers also conceded that phones were sold locked by mutual agreement between it and the manufacturers, but emphasized that this was necessary to provide the device subsidies that consumers desired.

Finally, Day 2 was capped off by a series of presentations from individuals teleconferencing in from Dartmouth to Toronto to Calgary. The individuals shared their views on several topics, including unlocking, three-year contracts, frustration with hidden fees, and discrepancies in wireless service prices between different regions. Some of the common themes that these individuals said they valued were transparency of costs (and prevention of bill shock), ease of switching between carriers, and the ability to unlock their phones for a reasonable cost.

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