Cellphone customers score as court rejects providers’ appeal

Broken iPhone. Stock photo by Getty Images

Canadian wireless customers caught a rare break this week as the Federal Court of Appeal smacked down a “Big Telecom” effort to keep consumers locked into longer contracts.

It means that, as of June 3, anyone can walk away from their wireless contract after two years without any early cancellation fees. Doesn’t matter if you signed a three-year agreement; you’re off the hook.

Bell, Rogers, Telus and other smaller companies including Sasktel and MTS were fighting over a section of the CRTC’s 2013 Wireless Code that established new consumer protections on contracts, early cancellation fees, data roaming and other common sore spots.

Specifically, they took issue with the Code’s June 3, 2015 “drop-dead” date, after which all contracts couldn’t be longer than two years.

They argued that many existing three-year contracts wouldn’t be done by that date, and the CRTC didn’t have the right to apply the Code retroactively.

However, the court’s unanimous ruling placed consumer protection and a more competitive market over the companies’ desire for generous cancellation fees.

The judges said the drop-dead date established a reasonable balance between the need for “speedy implementation” of the Code’s consumer protections and the costs to service providers.

“When one considers the Code as a whole, one can see that one of its effects will be to put more information in the hands of consumers,” wrote Justice Denis Pelletier. “… the coming into force of the Code should make the market for wireless services more dynamic as consumers make better informed choices at more frequent intervals. It is not unreasonable to conclude that achieving this state of affairs is indeed in the best interests of consumers.”

Canadians pay among the highest cellphone costs of any country. So let’s celebrate these wins over the wireless companies.

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