Canadian cell phone fee fightback

Good news for the Canadian cell phone user. Liberal David McGuinty introduced a bill into the House of Commons of interest to cell phone users. Bill C-555 or the “Telecommunications Clarity and Fairness Act.” was brought before the House recently.
McGuinty is the brother of Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. He quotes on the CBC today “we are talking 21 years and billions of dollars of misleading payments. My bill will end fictitious surcharges on cell phones” I would like to ask him what a fictitious charge is but regardless this is exciting.
McGuinty is the MP for Ottawa south presents his bill at a very good time, as spectrum auctions are also going on now which could open the air waves to more competition. He would like to “include a prohibition against levying of any additional fee or charge that is not part of the subscriber’s monthly fee or monthly plan rate” on the face of it this seems great. How many people have been so very surprised to find their first bill twice as much as they expect. But I have to wonder if the system access fees will now just be included in the monthly fee. His bill would also make it mandatory for cell phone contracts to include a fact sheet disclosing every service and cost. I have long felt that cell phone companies are less than honest about what the customer can expect to see on their monthly bill often not mentioning their system access fee or 911 fee not to mention their activation fee. It is not uncommon for the first bill to be twice what they expect.
The biggest aspect of this bill to me is a prohibition on locked phones. In a CBC press release it says so cell phones can work on other carrier’s networks but this is limited in Canada. For Bell and Telus this is a big deal as one phone can work on another network but Rogers is the only major GSM carrier in Canada. It will allow Rogers customers to change easier to Fido or Ice Wireless however. But still the advantage of this in Canada is limited. But it will allow for people from outside Canada to bring their phones here and easier for us to take our phones there.
The bill would also look into the effectiveness of the “Commissioner for Complaints of Telecommunications services” a consumer watch dog set up in Sept 2007 but has not been widely publicized.
It is no wonder the big 3 have not commented on this bill at all. But Peter Banes of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association is speaking out against the bill. He says the system access fee was originally a tax collected from the consumer by the government for airwaves licenses. Barnes says the fee is used to pay for airwave spectrum and licensing costs and are spelled out in the contract. I have to disagree being a cell phone dealer for a number of years often people would tell me “I went to ___ and they told me it would be $20 a month so now why is my first bill $40 and I would explain to them all the extras. Even in advertising all advertising says $20 a month in big letters only referring to the real cost in the fine print.
The idea for the bill came when McGuinty’s daughter got her first bill with $50 charges of unsolicited text messages. It used to be that incoming text messages were free unless you had signed up for a joke of the day text or something similar so this charge came as a shock. Looking at her contract he found the extra charge provision buried in the contract and like many of us encountered early cancellation fees.
McGuinty has introduced this as a private member’s bill so it is not going to be easy to pass but if enough people here about it and make noise. Mark Goldberg wrote in his blog “Bill c-555 is a sign of frustration with anti-consumer practices such as unilateral changes of terms and fees outside contracts.”
And they are right frustration runs big now with cell phone users. A Quebec consumer watchdog L’Union des consommaterus filed a class action suit against Bell for violation of consumer contracts. Also in Quebec a suit was filed against Videotron for putting on data limits in the middle of consumers contracts. Videotron disputes this saying they gave 2 months notice. But they fail to see a contract is a contract. And Tony Merchant a Regina lawyer has opened a 20 billion dollar class action suit to try to get more openness with the system access fees.
So Canadians are fighting back. And while the squeaky wheel gets the grease I can see this ending up like gas prices. How many times have we had a federal commission look at price fixing with gas and nothing done? But at least when you pull up to the pump you know what you are going to pay.


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