CRTC Bans Locked Cellphones and Unlocking Fees in Canada Starting Dec. 1

The day Canadians have long been waiting for has finally arrived—the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced a ban on locked cellphones and unlocking fees for individual and business wireless service customers.

Starting December 1, 2017, wireless customers will be able to have their smartphones unlocked free of charge upon request from their provider, while new devices must be provided unlocked.

The CRTC has also updated the trial period customers have with smartphone purchases, allowing them to cancel contracts within 15 days and get a full refund on their “near-new condition” device at no extra costs—as long as they have used less than half their monthly usage limits.

New rules also apply to family and shared plans, which state the account holder by default can be the only one to approve for data overage and data roaming charges, beyond the existing $50 and $100 per month caps. Account holders may be able to authorize other family members to authorize other users. These changes will take effect immediately.

Lastly, the CRTC says a wireless plan’s terms, which are defined by voice, text and data services “cannot be unilaterally changed by the service provider during the contract period without the account holder’s express consent,” effective immediately.

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC, said in a statement, “The Wireless Code has helped make the wireless market more dynamic to the benefit of Canadians. While they appreciate the Code, they told us loudly and clearly that it could be more effective. We have listened to them. The changes and clarifications we are announcing today will give Canadians additional tools to make informed choices about their wireless services and take advantage of competitive offers in the marketplace.”

Blais ends his five-year term as CRTC chairman on Saturday. He said in a previous speech this week “fast action” is required to increase wireless competition in Canada.

Locked phones and unlocking fees ($50) have been big business for Rogers, Telus and Bell, as it prevented customers from switching providers and also limited how customers were able to use their devices overseas.

Just how much do the Big 3 providers pull in from unlocking fees? The Financial Post sums up CRTC data:

Last year, carriers pulled in more than $37.7 million in revenue from unlocking fees, up 32.5 per cent from $28.5 million in 2015 – Telus raised its fee to $50 from $35 that year – and up 75 per cent from $21.6 million in 2014. That’s a fraction of retail wireless market revenues, which hit $22.5-billion in 2015.

So there you have it folks. Say good-bye to locked smartphones and unlocking fees in Canada.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • Chrome262

    wonder if this means we can get subsidized phones from apple like in the states.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    Wow, it’s about time. I don’t even understand how an “agreement” could be “unilaterally changed by the service provider during the contract period without the account holder’s express consent” could be legal until now. But why is this all happening in the last week of the Chairman’s 5 years? Makes me worried the next guy will just give al the power back to the service providers.

  • David

    Though during the hearings in February, the cell phone companies said that if they didn’t charge the fee for unlocking phones, that fee would have to be passed on to all customers. So – are even higher cell phone bills coming?

  • Kael

    OMG this is great news!
    Most of this should have been done long ago, but now is better than never.

  • It’s Me

    Unlocking fees were basically theft, so yes, if they aren’t allowed to collect those illegitimate fees anymore, they will find ways to make them up.

  • Riley Freeman

    They are just going to increase the price of phones to recoup that cost. I am glad this is the case now but they are definitely going to push the cost back on the customer.

    Love the 30 day nonsense is gone. i wish they got rid of activation fees. IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE THAT I AM GIVING SOMEONE MY BUSINESS AND THEY CHARGE ME A FEE TO DO THIS.

  • Salinger

    Essentially, it was an artificial cost created by the carriers. The carriers paid the OEM’s to lock the phones in the first place. Then, they charged customers to unlock them. Since the CRTC ruling no longer allows phones to be locked, they (theoretically) should have no costs to pass along.

  • FragilityG4

    You mean a payment plan… There’s no subsidies in phones any more, just payment plans.

  • FragilityG4

    There really is no reason, other than the obvious money, for phones to be locked anymore. They DONT give subsidies. They have finance programs wrapped up in a cute packaged called a tab.

  • Chrome262

    yeah, sorry payment plan, but now its the three month plan, in the states its over the two year period. it didn’t happen here because the big three didn’t want it. I think because they would of lost out on the interest or whatever charges they make. But it was all based on locked phones.

  • Chrome262

    Yeah and charge us extra for the plan. I am hoping now that they don’t have the excuse of locked phones, that they will allow Apples payment plan for them. Like in the states. I think that was the reason we didn’t have that here.

  • Chrome262

    I am hoping that this does help with prices in a good way. Forcing Rogers and the others to offer incentives to stay with them, when you can walk away. Heck, could be incentives like rebates on phones.

  • Dehop

    To your first point: If they do then people will quickly wise up, as we did long ago, to the fact that you can buy a phone direct from the maker for less than what the carrier charges.

    Totally agree on activation fees. They may have made some sense decades ago with physical hookups of phone lines and such, but not when it’s a virtual switch, click click click done. A SIM card doesn’t cost half as much as the fees they’re charging.

  • FragilityG4

    Perhaps but I would like to think Apple has power over the Pig 3 and not vice versa… there most be another reason.

  • FragilityG4

    That might happen. Might be a while before we see it but I could finally see that happening.

  • FragilityG4

    Let’s hope!

  • AccordTR

    Great news on paper, but lets be honest here, the big 3 will probably stop subsidizing the phones now. This gives them the ammo to charge full price.

  • Kevin D.

    Great…. You think plans are expensive, think again! My guess is cellphone plans will skyrocket because of this bullshit, I never bought an unlocked phone because I mever supported that concept but banning it will most probably make the plan prices increase heavily.

  • Henry Gan

    Great, I can finally unlock my old iPhone 3G, 4 and 5 for free.

  • Apocalypso

    I’m more inclined to think that will produce the very opposite. Think of it this way: If you, being a carrier, know that in unlocking their phones, customers now have the freedom to go with whomever provides the best rates, wouldn’t that compel you provide competitive plans to win or keep their business? I think so.

  • Larry

    With Shaw announcing today that they are going to aggressively go after the big 3’s business, that won’t leave the big 3 a lot of wiggle room to increase plan prices to compensate. If Shaw take Videotron’s blueprint, we should see prices drop.

  • Kevin D.

    It’s one way of looking at it, but also look at it this way, carriers will lose a lot of money with this ruling and you honestly think they will lose millions of dollars and not get it elsewhere, I mean come on. The 2 year “contract” will remain, whatever rebate you were given for the phone, you will have to pay if you want to switch carriers before your 24 months ends.

  • Bill___A

    You are contractually obligated to keep your service for as long as you agreed up to two years, and to pay for any devices. Unlocking doesn’t change that, it just means that when you get a new phone, you can sell the old one to almost anyone. Actually I buy phones from Apple, unlocked, so now there is a chance the carriers could sell me one..

  • MleB1

    Great start, though lousy timing for me – with a Rogers contract due to lapse in the next few months, I just unlocked my phone ($50), so as to take advantage of any better offer to come up. This made Rogers CSRs very anxious – which in itself was well worth it.

    Now, if we could only enjoy no-charge roaming as the EU has activated this week…

  • Nigel Richard

    I agree, it is aggravating (even infuriating for some people) that the service providers can change the contract if they feel they are not making enough money from you. Basically they are saying “You agree to pay us so many dollars per month for our service but we can tweak it whenever we want so you end up getting less value for money”!

    The service providers will react to these changes in the unlocking fee rules, history has shown they can be very creative as to how they recuperate the losses. I think they will counteract their $20M loss in revenue efficiently; probably a blanket initiative that affects customers that couldn’t care less if their phone was unlocked or not.

  • Nigel Richard

    Next, I would like to see CRTC ban the service providers’ “New customer only” deals! These are such a kick in the teeth for long-standing existing customers :-/

  • erth

    you would think this would be good, but now ALL of us are going to pay for this… i buy my phones from apple, unlocked. now, when i pay for my plan, i will have a smoothing amount for unlocking peoples phones applied.
    you need to understand that fees like unlocking phones, should be user specific. whoever uses it, pays for it.
    for example, why doesn’t rogers/bell just charge one fee, and you get everything? everyone pays the same amount? because you need choices and i chose not to unlock my phone with you. now, i have no choice.

  • Kael

    I recommend people don’t go on a plan. I myself have been contract free for the past 3 years and am paying $50 a month for 5 gigs on Fido. I have an unlocked phone and can move to any provider I wish at any time. Of course you have to pay off the phone before you change carriers. They are not giving away phones. Removing the rebate on the phone is a good idea. Shows everyone what the real cost is.

  • Kael

    I plan to do the same on Dec 1.

  • Widohmaker

    Why would we have to pay for this. The carriers are the ones that intentionally lock the phones in the first place and then charge to unlock them. it’s anticompetitive and anti-free market behaviour. The device manufacturers (i.e. Apple) have no interest in locking phones to carriers. So if plan prices go up suddenly it has nothing to do with locking but simply carriers trying to boost their bottom line.

  • Widohmaker

    The cost of the phone should be decoupled from the price of the plan anyway. Right now the carriers blur the lines with subsidized phones and you end up paying more for the phone in the long run and by virtue of locking you into the carrier they can charge more for the plan as well since you are acaptive. Now the consumer has a choice. Pay for the phone upfront or pay in instalments. The great thing is that you can take your phone to any carrier at any point for your plan.

  • mcfilmmakers

    50$ a month for 5 gigs sounds like a plan to me.

  • Kael

    ok, It is a plan and the term is one month.