Negotiating with a cellphone provider

What are my rights?

Do I have a legal right to an unlocked cellphone?
  • Yes
  • No

When you buy a cellphone, you might decide to sign a contract or get prepaid service. Either way, you will negotiate with a cellphone service provider, the company that provides the voice, text and data service for your phone. Here we explain your rights and offer tips for these discussions.  

What you should know

The provider’s advertising must not be misleading

Advertisements for cellphones, whether they are on TV, in magazines, or posters in stores, must be accurate and must not mislead.

Service providers cannot sell you a phone at a price higher than its advertised price. 

Providers must base any claims about the performance of their product on adequate and proper testing. For example, if a service provider advertises that its network is the “most reliable in Canada," they must have done adequate and proper testing to support that claim.

The provider must communicate clearly and accurately

Under the Wireless Code, Canada’s main set of rules for cellphone service providers, any salesperson for a service provider must communicate with you in a way that is clear, timely and in plain language. They must describe products and services accurately. This applies whether they are dealing with you on the phone or in the store. 

The salesperson can’t mislead you or use other unfair practices

Under BC law, a salesperson can’t use unfair practices to convince you to buy a phone or phone plan. Unfair practices include making statements, verbally or in writing, or any conduct that has the capability of deceiving or misleading you.

For example, a salesperson must not:

  • tell you that a phone or plan is of better quality than it really is

  • tell you that a phone or plan is only available for a limited time if that is not true

  • tell you that you are getting a special price or benefit when they are really offering the same thing that you can get somewhere else

Another type of unfair practice is when a salesperson does something “unconscionable”. Examples of unconscionable practices include:

  • taking advantage of vulnerabilities that you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any physical or mental disability, illiteracy or language difficulties

  • charging far more than what is reasonable for a phone or plan

  • pressuring you to buy a phone or plan that they know you cannot afford

If the salesperson does something unconscionable, any agreement you sign is not binding on you.

Any phone you get must be unlocked  

Under the Wireless Code, any phone provided to you by a service provider must be provided unlocked. (When a phone is locked to a network, it can only work with that provider’s voice, text and data services.)

A provider can’t charge you to unlock a phone.

Under BC law, when you buy a new phone, it must meet certain conditions. It has to be fit for the purpose you bought it for, of “merchantable” quality, and durable for a reasonable period of time. It also has to be “as described."

These conditions are sometimes called the legal warranty, as they are found in a law called the Sale of Goods Act. They apply regardless of whether the seller mentions them. They are in addition to any warranty the seller or manufacturer provide.

If your phone turns out to be faulty, you have the right to get it repaired or replaced, or to get a refund, depending on the situation.

If the provider offers to sell you an “extended warranty”

When you buy a new phone, the salesperson may suggest you buy an extended warranty. This is a promise by the seller — in exchange for you paying a certain amount in advance — to cover repairs and maintenance for a given period if there are problems. 

But be aware that an extended warranty may not give you any more rights than you have already through the legal warranty explained above. 

If you're thinking about an extended warranty, check its terms:

  • How long is the extended warranty good for?

  • What will the seller do if the phone has a problem? Will they repair it, replace it, or return your money?

  • Where do you have to take the phone for repairs?   

  • What is covered under the extended warranty? Does the extended warranty cover parts and service, or just parts?

Also note that a service provider must inform you of any manufacturer’s warranty that exists on a phone before offering an extended warranty or insurance for it.

Questions to ask

About the phone

Questions to ask the salesperson about the phone handset.

  1. If a phone handset is provided, what is the price for the phone?

  2. Can I upgrade my phone, and how would that affect my plan?

About any extended warranty

Questions to ask the salesperson if they offer to sell you an extended warranty for the phone.

  1. How long is the extended warranty good for?

  2. What will you do if the phone has a problem? Will you repair it, replace it, or return my money?

  3. Where do I have to take the phone for repairs?   

  4. What is covered under the extended warranty? Does the extended warranty cover parts and service, or just parts?

About the plan

Questions to ask the salesperson about the cellphone plan.

  1. What is the minimum actual amount that I will have to pay each month (including any add-on fees and taxes)? 

  2. How many texts, local calling minutes, and MBs (megabytes) or GBs (gigabytes) of data are included?

  3. Are national or international calls included? 

  4. Do you have coverage where I live, work and travel?

Ask about limits in your plan

If you are considering an unlimited plan, ask if there are any limits spelled out anywhere. For example, some providers have a “fair use policy” that once you reach a certain threshold of data use each month will result in slower connection speeds or additional charges.

About your use of the phone

Questions to ask the salesperson about your use of the phone.

  1. Can I decide to go onto a higher or lower plan if I want to, without penalty?

  2. If I exceed my limits, particularly for data, what extra charges apply?

  3. How much will I have to pay to make calls or use the internet if I visit another country?

  4. Exactly how much will I have to pay to cancel the contract or commitment?

Common questions

My 15-year-old son signed a cellphone contract without my knowing. Is the contract valid?

A person of any age can enter into a contract in BC. But special rules apply if a person under age 19 (called a “minor” under BC law) enters into a contract. 

A contract cannot be enforced against a minor. There are some exceptions:

  • if the contract provides the minor with the “necessaries” of life — services that are vital to the minor’s health or welfare,

  • if on reaching age 19, the minor affirms the contract (that is, accepts it), or

  • if within one year of reaching age 19, the minor partially performs the contract or doesn’t “repudiate” the contract (that is, doesn’t reject it).  

On the other hand, a minor can enforce a contract against an adult party to the contract.

The result is that if a business enters into a contract with a person under age 19, the minor isn't responsible for keeping up his or her end of the bargain. But if the minor wants to enforce the contract, they can.

So if your son wants to keep the cellphone and make the payments under the contract, he could. 

But if your son wants out of the contract, he could cancel it. Make sure that your son returns the cellphone to the store. Also, be sure to have your son send a letter to the cellphone provider stating that he is cancelling the contract and confirming that they will close his account. Keep a copy for your files.

What can I do with my old cellphone?

When you have finished with an old cellphone or battery, do not throw either of them out. Your community may have a recycling program to help you dispose of them in a sustainable way. Check with your municipality, or go to Recycle My Cell to find a drop-off location near you or to print out a pre-paid shipping label. 

Be sure to remove all of your personal information from the phone before recycling it.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services
CCTS administers the Wireless Code and deals with cellphone service complaints.
Competition Bureau
Deals with complaints about false or misleading advertising.

  • Reviewed in July 2019
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 6 minutes

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