Your right to an unlocked phone — and other changes

December 1, 2017

As of December 1, 2017, you have the right to get your cellphone unlocked free of charge upon request. As well, any new cellphone must be provided unlocked from that day forward.

But those aren’t the only changes now in effect for cellphone users. 

The Wireless Code — Canada’s main set of rules for cellphone service providers — got a refresh for its fourth birthday. 

The Code first came into effect in December 2013, to make it easier for Canadians to understand their cellphone contracts, avoid the shock of high bills, and switch service providers. 

While Canadians are mostly happy with the results, there remain areas of concern. During a review of the Wireless Code conducted over the last year by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a number of problems were highlighted.

Here are five key changes to the Wireless Code that took effect on December 1, 2017.

1. You are entitled to a copy of the contract — sooner

When you agree to a cellphone contract, the service provider must give you a copy of the contract in the format of your choosing (electronic or paper).

If you agree to the contract in person, the service provider must give you the contract immediately.

If you agree to the contract on the phone or online, the provider must now give you a copy of the contract within one business day if you opt for electronic format. 

Previously, providers could send you the contract anytime within 15 days — which led to the perverse outcome that you might receive the contract after the 15-day trial period had ended.

2. Your 15-day trial period is being reinforced

Many people told the CRTC that they weren’t able to assert their rights to cancel their contract during the trial period.

The trial period is a 15-day window after you sign a new cellphone contract. During this period, you’re legally entitled to cancel the contract — for any reason — without having to pay any penalty or early cancellation fee.

Under the amended Wireless Code, you can cancel a cellphone contract within 15 days, as long as you have used less than half of your monthly usage limits and return the device in near-new condition, with the original packaging.

Previously, some providers were setting extremely low usage limits during the trial period, making it hard to truly test out a new phone and plan. 

For persons with disabilities, the trial period is 30 days, and the usage limits are doubled.

Cellphone service providers are also being told to do more to publicize the trial period.

3. The account holder on shared plans is being given more control

Cellphone users on shared or family plans have been reporting more problems with bill shock than those on individual plans. To help address this, the rules relating to shared and family plans have been clarified to give account holders more control.

Only the account holder or someone they authorize can consent to additional charges on a shared or family plan. For a provider to charge more than the caps set out under the Wireless Code, the provider must get consent from the account holder — the person who is responsible in the contract for paying the bill. The account holder can in turn authorize a device user to consent to additional charges.

As well, the Wireless Code now clarifies that the caps apply on a per account basis rather than a per device basis. For example, data overage charges are capped once they reach $50 within a billing period. That’s $50 for a family account, not $50 for each device on a family account.

The amended Wireless Code makes it clear that data is a key term and condition of a cellphone contract. The service provider cannot change a key term or condition without your consent.

This change is designed to counter the practice of some service providers to describe data as an “add-on” component of the contract. The provider would then unilaterally change the data terms — decreasing the data allowance or increasing the rate for data during the contract term. 

5. You are entitled to an unlocked phone

As of December 1, 2017, you have the right to have your cellphone unlocked free of charge upon request. As well, any new cellphone must be provided unlocked from that day forward.

Previously, if you bought a subsidized phone (where part of the cost of the phone is built into your monthly contract payments), you had to wait 90 days before you could get it unlocked. And you had to pay a fee to unlock your phone.

With an unlocked phone, you can use your device with other providers’ networks.

Learn more about your rights and solving problems relating to cellphone use.

This website explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. The cases we refer to reflect real experiences, but names have been changed. See our full disclaimer.

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