Twenty years ago, who would have ever thought that cell phones would have become a staple in almost every household, regardless of economic status and other demographics. The advent of the digital age was ushered in largely by mobile devices, but none more prolific than the cell phone.
Many people literally “live” on the their cell phones. Even some high school students find that a cell phone is a compulsory tool in classes, as school boards find it more cost effective to have students use their own cell phones for in-class research instead of the school providing computers.
Regulations to reduce wireless fees
This year the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is re-examining ways to tighten rules around wireless cancellation fees. Anyone who has tried to cancel their cell phone plan before their contract end date knows that cell phone service providers have been known to charge absurd amounts for termination fees.
The CRTC is reviewing the effects of its previous code that was introduced in 2013, which reduced the maximum length of a wireless contract from three years to two years. It also capped the overage charges carriers could enforce for roaming and data usage, and presented parameters around clear and simple information for users. Consumers could now enter a contract that was lite in confusing jargon that seemed to make resolving issues with service more complicated.
After three years, what has changed?
The CRTC thought that the new code would lower wireless pricing, but that has not been the case. To the contrary, one of the unforeseen results of the 2013 regulations were higher phone bills as cell phone providers felt they were forced to recoup costs of subsidized smartphones over a shorter period of time. Rogers Inc has maintained that consumers should have the option of a three year term so the cost of new hardware being offered for zero-dollars is amortized over 36 months, thereby allowing carriers to offer lower costs on rate packages and recover the cost of hardware offered for free as contract incentives.
Another notable difference has been the drop in complaints to the authorities responsible for telecom company complaints. There’s apparently been a 17 percent drop in complaints from cell phone users with wireless plans as per a recent survey conducted by the CRTC. This is down from 26 percent in 2014.
Consumer advocacy groups such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) maintain that although the 2013 code has not brought down wireless pricing, it has curtailed charges of roaming and data overages. The PIAC also notes that clarity in early cancellation fees policy also helped reduce complaints, so overall the response has been positive as issues with overage charges and early cancellation penalties make up a majority of costumer grievances.
More changes wanted to save your money…
Although the response has been good, consumer groups believe things could still be better. They believe there are still some important changes that need to be made that will help people save money on their cell phone bills.
Companies provide tools that notify customers when they exceed data charges, and provide options to upgrade their data plans. However, account holders have complained that the same tools allow children to accept data charges at the click of a button, resulting in astronomical monthly bills.
Secondly, the current rules puts a $50 monthly limit on data overages, but consumer advocates suggest that the cap should apply to individual accounts, not individual wireless devices. This applies particularly to family plans, as a family of four could potentially pay up to $200 in overage charges.