The era of having to pay cellular providers to unlock your cellphone so you can switch providers will end this year. As of Dec. 1st, the CRTC announced that cell phone customers can ask their provider to unlock their phones free of charge. At the same time, it said, all newly purchased mobile devices must be provided to customers unlocked.
So what does this recent decision by the CRTC mean for us the consumer?
It means freedom to move providers without it costing you. If you look at the numbers, Canadian telecoms made a total of $37.7 million last year by charging customers to unlock their cellphones. That’s a whopping 75 per cent jump in this source of revenue compared to 2014. Telecoms often order locked phones from manufacturers that are programmed to work only with their service. Then they charge a fee — typically $50 — to unlock the phone if a customer wants to switch providers. The charge is unpopular with all consumers and it has even been referred to by many as a ‘ransom fee.’ And so essentially a locked phone did keep consumers tethered to their service provider, because they faced paying a fee to flee. Come December of this year that fee will be waived giving the consumer cheaper options to move to different cell providers.
What was the reason cell phone providers had this fee in the first place?
Telus and Bell argued that phones need to be locked in the first place to stop third party dealers from re-selling popular models, like the latest iPhone, overseas in an attempt to keep the devices within the country which they were intended for.
Bell and Rogers also said that locked phones help protect them against consumers walking away from their contracts. That’s because customers must wait 90 days for a provider to unlock their phone — time that a provider can use to establish that a customer is legitimate and paying the bills.
Bell, Rogers, and Telus also warned that if they didn’t charge an unlocking fee for the few customers who want it done, the cost would have to be passed on to everyone.
Where there any other statements by the CRTC that proved to be helpful for the consumers?
The commission’s decision on unlocking fees came out of a review of its 2013 wireless code created in part to help limit costly cellphone fees for consumers.
As part of the review, the commission also announced that only the account holder can consent to extra data charges and additional roaming charges in a family-shared cellphone plan. Other plan members will only be able to give consent if the account holder grants them approval. This was a direct result of everyone in family-shared cellphone plan getting a text – including minors – that their plan’s data was low and given the option to text back to pay to add more.
So as of now other plan members will only be able to give consent if the account holder grants them approval.
Finally, to help customers avoid running up their bills, the wireless code mandated that cellular service providers must cap international roaming charges at $100 a month and extra data fees at $50 — unless a customer agrees to pay more.