CRTC releases draft wireless code

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has released a working draft of its new national wireless code and is now welcoming feedback on the document.

Among the guidelines are clear rules about unlocking phones, keeping contracts transparent and easy to understand and allowing for users to establish caps and monitor usage to prevent overages.

“I would like to thank Canadians for having shared their candid views on wireless services,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, in a press release. “The draft code is still very much a work in progress and intended to encourage more discussion. We are inviting Canadians to participate by telling us what they think of the working document. Once finalized, the wireless code will enable them to make informed decisions in a competitive marketplace.”

Over 4,000 Canadians answered the CRTC’s call for input on wireless services – including cell phones and other personal mobile devices – last fall. The code will apply to all types of service, including pre-paid, pay-as-you-go, contracted and bundled.

While some critics have said the draft code mostly contains guidelines already in play, others – including some wireless companies – are applauding the document. A spokesperson for Telus told the CBC the code is a “good start to work from.”

As laid out in the code, providers offering unlimited cellular plans would have to outline any restrictions associated with it and would not be permitted to charge customers for any services or devices they have not “expressly” purchased.

Service providers will also be required to alert customers via text message when undertaking activities that would result in extra fees, such as international roaming. Many Canadian wireless companies already do this on a voluntary basis.

There are also provisions for unlocking phones. A provider will have to give the consumer means to unlock a subsidized phone within 30 days of service, and a non-subsidized phone immediately at no charge. Last weekend, the United States enacted legislation that makes unlocking a phone using third-party hacks a criminal act.

Notably absent from the draft code was a restriction on three-year contracts, which has been one of the biggest consumer gripes.

Canadians can provide feedback on the code at http://consultation.crtc.gc.ca until Friday, Feb. 15. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 11-15 in Gatineau. A live audio feed of the hearing will be broadcast and comments will be accepted on a real-time basis.