Over the last few years, several Canadian wireless consumers have suffered the agony of cellphone ‘bill shock’. It’s hard to forget the infamous case of Jason Boutang, a Calgary resident who visited France for three days and then got the shock of his life when he received a statement of his June bill saying he owed Virgin Mobile a whopping sum of $7,763.70.
TheTelecomBlog’s very own Jeff went through a similar ordeal not so long ago. Time and again, the CRTC and the wireless carrier fraternity have made promises to put an end to this nuisance but not enough groundwork has been done for the same. That scenario may soon change at least in Ontario, as the government announced its plans to curb mobile phone bill shock with the adoption of The Wireless Services Agreement Act, 2012.
The proposed legislation will make it easier to understand the costs and terms of wireless services agreements while ensuring service providers are upfront with information before contracts are signed. However, it remains to be seen whether the legislation passes the legal hurdles in the provincial legislature. None the less, this is a good start.
The legislation will deal with painful cancellation fees and obscure contract language, instead forcing carriers to use what is deemed as ‘plain language’. However, it will not regulate voice, data and texting costs because as these are under federal control. The move is likely to popular with consumers as it enables them to cancel their contracts at any time, while placing a ceiling on penalties. The legislation will also require carriers to get written confirmation from customers before renewing or amending a contract.
“One common problem we are responding to is the cell shock that many consumers experience upon opening their monthly bill,” Consumer Services Minister Margarett Best said. “The cell shock results from consumers being surprised for charges on services they were not aware they would be charged for or services they did not know would cost extra.”
Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador already have such legislation in place and I believe a nationwide roll-out is the need of the hour. Upstart wireless carriers Mobilicity and Wind Mobile have praised the move stating that it is time that Ontarians get legislative protection from unfair wireless practices.
“We are grateful that Ontario is taking further steps to ensure its citizens are not impacted by restrictive, oppressive wireless practices, like excessive early contract termination fees,” said Mobilicity President and Chief Operating Officer Stewart Lyons.
“Hats off to the Government of Ontario for demonstrating leadership on consumer protection in the wireless market,” said Anthony Lacavera, Chairman and CEO of WIND Mobile. “As longstanding champions of wireless choice for Canadians, WIND Mobile is glad to see Ontario taking strides to promote real competition and protect consumers from unfair practices.”
The date to introduce the bill in the legislature has not been announced yet. Once passed, the proposed legislation will take effect six months and will cover existing agreements that are amended, renewed or extended after that date.