CRTC ban on cell phone unlocking fees starts December 1

Nov 30, 2017 | Biz/Tech

CRTC ban on unlocking fees starts December 1. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

By: Junisha Dama

Starting December 1, you won’t have to pay a fee to get your phone unlocked from your cellular service provider.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has banned telecom companies from charging an unlock fee, which typically was between $30 to $50.

“There’s going to be a psychological change in phone ownership. When a phone contract was up after two years, the phone wouldn’t be good to use, anyway. So, customers were forced to sign a new contract for a new phone and stay with the carrier,” said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst and journalist based in London, Ontario.

The change in the Wireless Code came after a coalition formed by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and other consumers and organizations fought against what they called a “ransom fee” and appeared in front of the CRTC.

“During the hearing, the companies could not prove any relation to the fee they charged and the cost of unlocking. So, the CRTC decided, in a way, to spank them,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC.

Lawford adds that after PIAC and other consumers filed an application, it came to light that phone companies were generating a revenue of $37 million from charging unlocking fees.

While the CRTC has made it easier for consumers, the change makes the market more competitive.

The new code now lets customers change SIM cards while traveling instead of taking up roaming plans, which often cost a lot of money. They can also keep their phones for longer, if they like, and will have more control of their device and the service. Customers can choose to opt for low cost phones and still get a good plan, with more gigabytes of data.

Levy believes this change will create a downward price pressure on companies.

“We may see more cost-effective packages, more GBs of data and voice service. This will definitely force companies to provide better service, if they don’t want customers switching their network providers,” he adds.

Customers are obviously happy. Troy Papillon, a technician at Humber College said, “I know how to unlock phones, but I’m glad about the move. On a contract with a big phone company, you usually pay $90 per month for a good data plan. If you pay that much every month for a two-year contract, you’re technically paying more than the actual cost of the phone.”

However, there are concerns from Lawford that consumers may not be aware of the change and phone companies may continue to charge the unlock fee. Aware customers also have concerns, theirs focused on long queues.

“I’m worried that a lot of people may come to unlock their phones in the first few days and that may cause system crashes or delays,” said Beverley Almeida, a Humber College student.

According to the decision, all cellphones in Canada must be offered unlocked to begin with from December 1, 2017 as well.