Device unlocking takes centre stage at CRTC Wireless Code review

bell telus rogers websites on phones - unlocking revenue canada

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) spent last week reviewing Canada’s Wireless Code, which has governed the country’s telecom industry for the past three years. When the CRTC first enacted the Code, its intention was always to return to the document after three years to make new changes as necessary.

While this refurbishment likely won’t equal the upheaval caused by the introduction of the Code in 2013, mainly due to the elimination of three-year contracts, significant change is still expected.

A number of themes emerged from last week’s hearings that not only revealed how much the wireless landscape in Canada has changed, but how the code will need to adapt in order to properly reflect those changes.


Unlocking Fees are still too high

Several independent parties that took part in the review complained that carrier unlocking fees remain too expensive. For those who are unaware, smartphones purchased through a carrier are often locked to that particular provider. In order to ‘unlock’ the phone, allowing it to work with any telecom provider, most carriers charge a fee. As it currently stands, the Wireless Code requires carriers to provide unlocking services to consumers who request them. However, wireless service providers continue to charge high fees, usually as much as $50, for this service.

For his part, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that unlocking fees should be available at a fixed price far below $50.

Other parties, however, including the Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia, National Pensioners Federation, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, recommended the elimination of unlocking fees entirely.

Carriers often argue that they need to have some control over the devices they sell, though, in markets like the U.S, regulations exist that state there’s no rationale for wireless service providers to charge an unlocking fee if a consumer has already paid off their device.

Bill shock is still a major concern

While many of the carriers didn’t address the prevalence of bill shock in the Canadian wireless market, several of the special interest groups in attendance during the hearings expressed that bill shock is still a frequent occurrence for many Canadians, despite improvements over the past few years.

One of the main disconnects highlighted by said groups is that data is still treated as an add-on by many carriers, rather than an essential component of a wireless contract.

To address those concerns, the CRTC suggested that the Wireless Code be amended to give parents more control over their household data limits. One method of doing this may give parents the ability to authorize their child to incur overages if they believe their child is responsible enough to stay within their data limit, or the ability to refrain from authorizing overages should the child frequently go over their limit.

Lastly, one group argued on the first day of presentations that despite an obligation to make consumers acutely aware of their contractual obligations, only one out of the 12 providers briefly showed customers a copy of their contract. Often times, wireless subscribers aren’t given a chance to look at their contract closely, the group argued.


Many carriers averse to significant change

Another theme that arose during the various presentations made by Canadian network providers were the interests of both large and smaller carriers.

For example, Eastlink emphasized its rural customer demographic throughout much of its presentation, stating that the Wireless Code has allowed it to operate in a way that best serves its base.

The regional carrier went on to insist that reducing the powers of the Wireless Code would inhibit its service, and went on to argue that any changes to the regulatory document should enhance its ability to operate how it was intended to.

Other smaller carriers like Freedom Mobile openly advocated for putting an end to unlocking fees, and further suggested that all devices be sold unlocked to begin with.

SaskTel, on the other hand, suggested minimal changes to the Wireless Code, arguing that consumer decisions and the free market be allowed to direct Canada’s wireless space.

The national carriers, meanwhile, argued in favour of less regulation, despite having made the conditions of the Wireless Code work to their favour.

Telus, for example, argued in favour for the reinstatement of contracts that fall outside the two-year margin.

While Rogers argued to institute a $50 cap on data overages for single line accounts, and a $100 cap on data overages for multi-line accounts, Telus argued the other way.

Rather than increasing the $50 cap, Telus stated that provincial legislation should be amended to make sure that the Code is the only regulation they’re required to abide by.

Disability Services are not up to par

One of the more interesting insights into the Wireless Code came from two special interest groups representing the deaf and blind communities.

During this portion of the hearings, the Deaf Wireless Canada Consultative Committee shared data it collected revealing that 20 percent of deaf and hard of hearing individuals have unlocked smartphones, and that 77 percent have a contract with one of the big three carriers. Of this group, 53 percent went over their data plans and 54 percent have data buckets between two and six gigabytes. Thus, the group advocated that data buckets begin at 4GB to accommodate the deaf and hard of hearing community, who use largely video to communicate with friends and family members.

Furthermore, the group argued that contract terminology should be translated into American Sign Language (ASL) and Quebec Sign Language (LSQ). The group also noted The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) does not offer resources for deaf and hard of hearing Canadians who want to make complaints.

In addition, wireless service providers were asked to forge relationships with companies that can do sign language interpretation of video, or video remote interpreting.

The deaf community also pushed for the complete elimination of data caps.

“We don’t want to be penalized for data overages because that’s our only mode of communication. So that is one thing that we really want to emphasize, unlimited data is our preference,” said a representative for the Deaf Wireless Canada Consultative Committee.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Rogers argued in favour of the CRTC allowing contracts that are longer than two years. In reality, it was Telus that argued this point, noting that monthly bills could be reduced by amortizing the cost of a zero dollar phone over 36 months.

Source: CRTC


  • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

    I’m going to take a further step and say phone locking should be eliminated and never should have been allowed in the first place. You already have a term/tab obligation to pay the full price of the hardware if you choose to leave and discontinue service, so why should the hardware be crippled to work on one network only, what’s the justification? Only reason was to guarantee roaming income for the carriers, and they make you pay a fee on top of the full price you already paid. It makes no sense in a fair contract.

    • It’s Me

      Yup. Legal contract covers responsibilities and obligations on both sides. Locks are a scam.

    • Richard Wangly

      If it wasn’t so easy for the consumer to just not pay what they owe, maybe they wouldn’t be so keen on the practice. Not everyone cares about their credit rating…

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      Irrelevant. You’re referring to carriers blocking out phones by (ab)using the national blacklist to list non-payment account phones as stolen. We’re talking about legitimately owned phones and what users can do with the phone that they own.

    • Richard Wangly

      I meant no such thing. In my opinion, locking a phone to the service of the carrier that supplied, _while_ that carrier still technically owns it, is fine with me. They own it and they can do what they like! Conversely, charging a fee to provide an unlock code once a subsidised phone is paid off (or for a phone purchased outright), is not ok. You own it and you should be able to do what you like!
      I’m not sure where you got anything about blacklisting the IMEI, I was only speaking to your comment about the “obligation to pay the full price of the hardware if you choose to leave”. People routinely do not pay their bills, student loans, parking tickets, whatever. The fact that the amount is owed does not mean the now ex-client will pay, and someone is still short that money unless they do, regardless of whether the carrier or a collection agency is holding the debt.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      Read up. Big 3 has consistently been putting phones on the blacklist to completely bar service everywhere, so the SIM lock (which is what’s being discussed here) isn’t being used for your “delinquent” scenario.

      mobilesyrup dot com/2015/03/30/canadas-gsm-blacklist-bell-telus/

    • Richard Wangly

      That article doesn’t really illustrate your point (since it’s about a phone apparently obtained fraudulently by the first owner), but nevermind that. I thought you were talking about SIM locks, and I replied regarding SIM locks, yet you insist that I’m talking about IMEI blacklisting. ???

  • Obaid Ansari

    No reason why a carrier should be selling locked devices. It makes no sense whatsoever. As for one of the carriers saying essentially – let the free market dictate where the future goes – well guess what? There is no “free market”. It’s a freaking loot market! Similar/Identical plan prices all around.

    There needs to be a T-Mobile type of revolution in the telecomm industry in Canada. Otherwise nothing is going to happen. CRTC needs to be a LOT more consumer friendly and progressive.

    • Igor Bonifacic

      Unfortunately, the Canadian market doesn’t have the scale to support a T-Mobile type player. Even as the third player in the U.S. telecom market, T-Mobile has more subscribers than all of the big three combined. One can hope though!

    • Techguru86

      Sure it does, Freedom is becoming that alternate option, problem is they were held back by previous ownerships, Shaw can finally spend money on network and spectrum

    • mola2alex

      You are free to get an unlocked device…

    • You can buy unlocked devices directly from the manufacturer (Apple) in most cases or other retailers (Staples, Costco, Amazon and etc…)

  • Brad Fortin

    “Rogers, for example, argued in favour for the reinstatement of contracts that fall outside the two-year margin”

    I’m okay with this IF AND ONLY IF there are regulations stating that subsidies MUST be proportional to the length of the contract. That was the biggest problem with three-year contracts: The carriers only offered a reasonable subsidy on three-year contracts while shorter contracts barely got a subsidy, if they did at all.

    For example, back during the days of the Galaxy S III, a three-year contract used to get a full $649 subsidy, but a two-year contract would only get a $50 subsidy, and a one-year contract got a $25 subsidy (but was only available on new activations, upgrades weren’t allowed to take a one-year contract). What should have been offered was a $649 subsidy on a three-year contract, a $433 subsidy on a two-year contract, and a $216 subsidy on a one-year contract.

    • Aaron Hoyland

      Completely agree, and I’d tack on a stipulation that the device subsidy should be a separate line item on the bill, and should disappear once the device is paid off. No reason your phone bill shouldn’t go down once you’ve paid off your subsidy.

    • Not for you

      Yep, just as bringing your own device should earn a lower monthly charge, paying off a carrier provided device should do the same.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      Except the carriers would find people stop taking the subsidy, and then start eliminating BYOD discounts.

    • Not for you

      You overestimate people’s ability to do math when it comes to a “$700 device” with a lower monthly plan cost vs a “$200 device” but a higher monthly plan cost. Rose has mentioned this on the podcast numerous times.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      I’m only specifically talking about this: mobilesyrup dot com/2016/01/15/rogers-will-effectively-eliminate-its-byod-benefits-on-january-20/

      Other than forcing people to take a phone, math or not, I can’t think of any other reason.

    • Not for you

      Someone doesn’t understand what the word “should” means.

    • It’s Me

      They’d just use it as an excuse to hike prices even more.

    • Brad Fortin

      “They’re getting rid of 3-year contracts, time to raise rates!”

      “They’re bringing back 3-year contracts, time to raise rates!”

    • vn33

      Sound about right! LOL!
      I don’t think anyone seriously think Robellus would drop the price for any reason (besides “promotional” plans)?

  • canucks4life

    Telus, for example, argued in favour for the reinstatement of contracts that fall outside the two-year margin. *sigh*

    • It’s Me

      Think they’ll drop prices back down as much as they raised them? Going to 2 year terms should have meant about $5-$7/month increase, instead we saw $30-$60 increases. Can guarantee prices won’t drop back down as much because the hikes weren’t related to the 2 year terms at all.

    • Crazy Legs™

      My thoughts exactly. There’s no way Telus is going to lower their monthly rates if the are allowed to go back to 3 year contracts.

    • Alex


    • If 3 year contracts were an option, I’m sure there’ll be some small “incentive” to choose the 3 year contract instead of the 2 year contract.

      If it resembled anything like 3 year contract pricing of the past (phone and customer relations discounted plan) I’m all for it!

    • It’s Me

      Back when we had 3 year terms, there were still 2 year terms available. No one really noticed because there was almost no discount for 2 compared to no term. 3 was on inky viable option back then. Brining 3 year back would just be the same, except the constant price hikes over the last 3-4 years wouldn’t be rolled back so we’d have longer terms and higher prices.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      This was where the original implementation of the wireless code fell short. The 2-year cap should have included cost studies to determine how much of the monthly back in the 2+ year days was a subsidy so it can actually separated out transparently, but rather it was used as a convenient excuse to raise monthly costs.

      But who am I kidding. The ogliopoly has the CRTC in their pockets. Now I’m just waiting for the dipsh*t carrier shills to come and attack how they needed to “recoup costs over a shorter period”.

  • hardy83

    I never even thought about low data caps being a hindrance on with accessibility issues. That’s a very important issue and cements the need for a large increase or complete removal of data caps in my opinion.

    Use throttling and traffic management to manage the network. Monetary fees simply hurt the poor and people with needs.

    • Igor Bonifacic

      The two groups that presented on accessibility definitely opened my eyes to how essential mobile technology has become to certain groups.

    • Bill___A

      increased usage of certain video applications could be allowed without causing the system to overload so much…

  • Alex

    anyone know why we can’t just have limited speeds on our wireless plans? Say, 15/10mbps speed? I get 30-40mbps downlaod, but not like i need anything that fast. Rather i get worried i accidentally drain my bandwith more. They seem to be able to limit speeds, since Freedom Mobile can limit your speeds after you reach your limit, and goes down to 72kbps, which is ridiculously slow, but you can still instant message at least.

    • That would cause a lot of complaints on the other end. Throttling is frowned upon. Freedom gets away with it now because you have an option to leave but if everyone did it, there would be outrage.

    • Alex

      agreed, its hard to please everyone, but i much rather have regulated speeds with much higher usages, than unregulated HIGH speeds with extremely regulated low usage limits. But i guess thats just me?

    • That would make sense but people will fight and they make more money this way, so its a win-win-lose

    • Alex

      so we’re screwed… lol.

    • lol pretty much

    • Techguru86

      the Americans have been doing it for awhile, so it’s accepted. It’s just not accepted from the Big 3

    • That would not be excepted here by the people. The minute they start to throttle, blogs will be lit up with ” I pay for it, I should be able to go at the speeds I want”

  • Benjamin Lehto

    How about PRICE you i****s at the CRTC. I’m thinking that that is number 1 on most people’s list.

    Price and brutal lack of Competition across most of the provinces.

    • Its hard to argue price because people keep paying it. If there was a lack of upgrades or abandonment, it would be a clear sign that prices are too high but they keep breaking records as the price goes up.

      The only way to see it as a problem is for there to actually be proof that it can’t be afforded. I would love prices to steady or lower but for every me there is 3 to 5 people will to pay more for less.

  • SV650

    Can someone help me with this conundrum?
    Deaf Wireless Canada Consultative Committee argued that contract terminology should be translated into American Sign Language (ASL) and Quebec Sign Language (LSQ).

    ASL is a visual gestural language. That means it is a language that is expressed through the hands and face and is perceived through the eyes. It isn’t just waving your hands in the air. If you furrow your eyebrows, tilt your head, glance in a certain direction, lean your body a certain way, puff your cheek, or any number of other “inflections” –you are adding or changing meaning in ASL. A “visual gestural” language carries just as much information as any spoken language. There is much more to learning American Sign Language than just memorizing signs. ASL has its own grammar, culture, history, terminology and other unique characteristics.

    Why would a written contract need to be translated to a visual gestural language for folks who are deaf?

  • Bob Loblaw

    How about they talk about the corruption, collusion and criminal practices by Robellus. Oh right, the CRTC’s part of their schemes.

    Eat sh!t CRTC. Oh and Fvck you too Robellus.

  • Bill___A

    “deaf and hard of hearing community, who use largely video to communicate with friends and family members” I can understand how they would prefer to use sign language as texting could get old. However, they are going to communicate with hearing people who can sign too. Unleashing data caps would overload the system because people would stop using their home internet connections. I would advocate removing caps on certain video friendly apps for calling, but not having wide open data, although it would be nice, we don’t have enough spectrum for that. Yes, data should be cheaper but not unlimited.

    • Victor Creed

      Hogwash. How is it all carriers in the US with 100x the population can offer unlimited data?

    • Techguru86

      Why can RObelus offer Que, Sask, Tbay, Man plans and can’t make it available across Canada ? Most of us never leave the province anyway

  • John W

    To be fair for both side, contract Phone should only be allowed to unlock when contract terms are up or paid the full price of the phone and there should be No Charge for unlocking.
    Also, price plans should be same across the country.

    • We could only wish that but that will never happen. Maybe the device part but the plan part seems to be a distant dream.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      No. Even contracted phones should not be locked. That’s what the early termination fee is for, to recover the subsidy they provided.

    • NoWayHosEH

      I have to say that is dumb. If you subsidize a phone then they should be able to have it carrier locked. If you cancel early and you pay the termination fee (which it’s your left over subsidy) then it should be unlocked no charge. This makes total sense. As much as well all hate the carrier’s some logic has to come in to play.

    • Ali F.

      No logic here, it is take it or leave it until they are forced to change their so called non-logic.

    • That’s what John W said. “…or paid the full price of the phone…”
      When you pay off the device balance (early termination) you’ve paid for the phone in full.

  • Everything else is kinda less important compared to the disability services. I think they should also give them more of a grace period for returns or renegotiation of a contract. They get double the time to return but they shouldn’t have a data or minute window for return, just in case a not so genuine sales person sells them and they don’t know what their getting and if it suits their needs.

    I have seen this and I have always been disgusted by this.

  • GordyDevice

    I do not understand the unlocking fees. I searched to unlock an iPhone 4s and most change up to 100$ to provide an unlock code for the iPhone. In this case 50$ doesn’t look so bad. However for Android devices you only have to pay about 10$, my LG G3 cost me 10.83 for an unlock code so 50$ is way overpriced. Why is the iPhone so expensive to unlock?
    Another reason to stay with Android phones.

    • Alex

      you can always unlock phones from other places cheaply, both android and iphones. For some odd reasons, most iphone users just dont mind as much paying those unlock fees. For me, i personally dont like someone plugging my phone into their computer for a few minutes to unlock. I could even do it myself, but i dont like downloading sketchy software.

    • You cannot unlock the iPhone any other method. It has to be done through the official channels (whether it’s from the carrier or 3rd party unlockers).

      Your iPhone’s IMEI has to be added to the “unlock” list, and that needs be pushed to the phone (via WiFI or iTunes).

      There’s no other way to unlock an iPhone today.

    • You can unlock LG phones for under $5. Motorola phones for under $3. And most non-iPhones from the big 3 carrier and their sub brands for under $15.

      Wind, Videotron and MTS non-iPhone unlocking (Samsung, Sony, Blackberry is between $30 and $40) with 3rd party unlockers.

      Only iPhones are cheaper to get unlocked directly through the carrier.

    • Ali F.

      AT&T will unlock for free, iphone or others. I bought an iPhone that was locked to AT&T, I got their support phone number from google and called them. Before that, I told a friend who lives in the US that I will use hs name to unlock the device (the service is free for current and previous subscribers). I called and asked for unlock, they only asked me for a US subscriber name and I gave them the information, voilà, the next I know my iPhone was unlocked for free. On eBay it costs less than $5 for AT&T and around $100 for every Canadian carrier. This fee should be eliminated, period. Imagine you buy a car, you pay it in full, but you cannot open the back doors nor the trunk.

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  • I miss the days of 3 year contracts, before the stupid CRTC got involved and messed it up for consumers.

    You can get a 6GB plan, a free/$100 flagship phone every 2 years and pay under $50/month.

    • Victor Creed

      How do you get a phone every 2 years on a 3 year contract?

    • Techguru86

      You shouldn’t be asking why don’t the Big 3 do that, you should be asking why do they offer different plans in other provinces and why do they have far more data for cheaper.

  • Techguru86

    Screw 3 year contracts, many phones don’t last longer than 2 years, Canadians should be asking why can Robelus be allowed to offer such better plans in Que, Man and Sask and not make it available to everyone, majority of Canadians don’t leave their provinces anyways

  • Techguru86

    There’s Freedom too, service is obviously not as large as the Big 3 but they have Everywhere plans that cover it

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