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

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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.

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