TORONTO – Canadians locked into three-year wireless contracts will find themselves with extra freedom this week as new CRTC regulations kick in for mobile phone carriers. The changes allow customers to walk away from their contracts after two years without paying cancellation fees.
While the CRTC’s new national wireless code actually went into effect in late 2013, the impact only applied to new contracts. As of Wednesday, the terms expand to all agreements.
Here’s what you need to know about the changes:
CP: Who will be affected?
Josh Tabish of the OpenMedia consumer advocacy group: If you entered into a three-year contract before June 2013, you now have the option of leaving as of June 2015 without penalty. The change impacts contracts for the run of 24 months or more. If your contract has not run for 24 months, you may face a small cancellation fee, but those fees are fairly reasonable and are being dictated by the CRTC.
CP: How many people will be affected?
Scotia Capital analyst Jeff Fan: Between 2.2 million and four million subscribers of Rogers, Bell and Telus, which have the overwhelming majority of cellphone customers, were estimated to still be on three-year contracts at the end of last year.
CP: When it comes to monthly bills, will it really change what Canadians pay?
Tabish: It’s a huge win in terms of flexibility for Canadians who have been trapped for a number of years. It’s an opportunity for millions of Canadians to change providers and negotiate a better deal.
CP: Canada’s biggest telecom providers — Rogers, Bell and Telus — have anticipated the end of three-year contracts for some time. All three have dedicated resources to getting Canadians to sign fresh two-year contracts. Can consumers use this to their advantage?
Tabish: Our community has been telling us that cellphone providers are phoning people all the time with retention offers, discounted devices, and (lower) introductory price plans are going to start cropping up all over the place as they try to attract customers switching from one carrier to another. There’s going to be lots of opportunity for short-term savings if Canadians are in a position to re-enter the market.
Answers have been edited and condensed.