'Horror stories' could soon come to an end in Ontario
Source: Ottawa Citizen
Ontario will soon join three other provinces with new rules for wireless contracts that the governing Liberals say will end the "horror stories" consumers report after opening their cellphone bills.
Government legislation aimed at addressing those complaints passed unanimously in the provincial legislature Wednesday and is expected to take effect in the spring.
Cellphone users won't have to pay more than $50 in cancellation fees and will be able to walk away from their contracts after two years. But they'd still have to pay off or return their phone if it was provided free or at a discount under the deal.
Telecom companies would have to write contracts in plain language, spelling out which services come with the basic fee and which ones would cost more. They'd also have to obtain explicit consent from cellphone users before altering their contracts.
Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles said even she has a hard time understanding changes in her cellphone contract and those of her teenage children.
"This bill is going to address that," she said. "It's going to empower consumers and it's going to make them more confident."
They'll understand their rights, get clearer contracts and know when they have to give consent, she added.
"We really want to get the confidence up, because when the consumers are confident, then that helps the marketplace, that helps the telecoms, that helps our economy."
Some of the provisions mirror the national telecommunication regulator's code of conduct, which takes effect in December. But there are strong differences between the two, MacCharles said.
Ontario's legislation would add all-in pricing and strong enforcement with penalties of up to $250,000 for corporations who are convicted of violating the rules, she said.
The push by Ontario and other provinces for better laws to protect consumers has spurred the federal government to take notice, said cabinet minister David Orazietti, who has championed the changes since 2010.
When he introduced his first private members' bill, "the horror stories, if you will, were rolling in at a considerable rate," he said.
"It would be fantastic if we had one universal type of code right across the country," Orazietti said. "We can't stand by and allow Ontarians to be exposed to these types of contracts and not do anything while we hope and wait that the federal government will take action."
Under the new rules, users can't get charged for services that they can't access while
their phones are being repaired under warranty and they won't lose their phone numbers if they don't sign up for another contract right away after the old one expires.
The CRTC's code limits contracts to two years. However, Canada's major telecom companies have been given the go-ahead by a federal court to challenge part of the code that would affect three-year cellphone contracts retroactively. They say mandating that contracts run no more than two years would prematurely apply to three-year contracts signed before the CRTC's new code comes into effect on Dec. 2.
MacCharles said Ontario's rules wouldn't be applied retroactively.
© Ottawa Citizen