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A woman buys a smartphone. (Adam Gregor/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A woman buys a smartphone.

(Adam Gregor/Photos.com/Getty Images)

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Five things Canada's wireless industry needs to fix Add to ...

Ask Canadians what they think of their country's wireless industry and prepare for the sparks to fly. "Draconian," "criminal" and "worst in the world" were fairly typical reactions from the more than 500 Globe and Mail readers who responded to a recent survey about the CRTC's plans to impose a code of conduct on Canada's mobile providers.

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Among the recommendations Globe readers have for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, five major complaints stand out:

1. Prices need regulation

Asked how they felt about the price of wireless plans in Canada, 93 per cent said they were not satisfied.

That's a lot of unhappy customers, including  Ben Finn, 39, of Gabriola, B.C., who called our wireless industry a sad joke:  "We pay more than anybody else. The so-called plans for bundled services are ridiculously overpriced and poorly built."  

A majority of readers - 79 per cent - would like to see the CRTC actively regulate wireless pricing in Canada. 

"Worldwide rates are going down, but the Big Three have a stranglehold on consumers, who have succumbed to living with expensive contracts," said Brian Fernandes, 52, of Mississauga, Ont.

2. Contracts are too long

While 86 per cent of survey respondents say they're aware that they're not required to sign a long-term contract in order to buy wireless services in Canada, 60 per cent said companies should not be offering them in exchange for a subsidized phone.

The three-year length of typical contracts makes them a bad deal for consumers, readers said.

"Personally, I would like to have a choice to sign on with a one- or two-year contract," said Ken Davidson, 61, a telecom call centre worker from Nanaimo, B.C., who added most mobile phones only last between 18 to 24 months.

When phones break down during a three-year contract, he said, customers are often forced to purchase new subsidized devices and renew three-year contracts with their carrier, lest they face huge penalties for terminating.

"If the CRTC is serious about improving this industry, they need to sit down and talk with the people who deal with customer complaints on a daily basis. There are many issues to be resolved and so far CRTC has missed the two biggies: business ethics and fiduciary duty to the client."

Asked what should be the maximum length of contracts offered by wireless providers, 41 per cent said two years and 33 per cent said one year.

3. Contracts need better clarity

Many readers feel the fine print in wireless contracts is misleading and needs to be simplified and transparent. Asked how satisfied they were with the clarity of cellular contracts, only 9 per cent said they were satisfied.

"People get hooked into plans based on flashy marketing schemes and then get hit hard when they realize the complicated structure of their plan doesn't include what they thought they were getting," said C. Lyon, 51, in Ontario. "Not all consumers can navigate the complexity of 99 per cent of cell phone plans. I would like to see more consumer friendly plans and accountability."

4. Fees are out of control

Of all the fees wireless providers charge, termination fees were deemed the worst by a third of respondents. Twenty per cent said administrative fees were the most unnecessary, and 19 per cent pointed to roaming fees.

"Some service providers will allow you to cancel your mobile phone after paying one extra month of usage upon cancellation, which, to me, seems fair, while other providers can get away with charging you over $300 upon cancelling," one reader complained."That is  beyond highway robbery."

"While roaming fees are necessary, the current pricing on them is unfair," said another respondent. "The EU mandates various levels of roaming prices on the carrier-to-carrier front, as well as carrier-to-consumer. Similar limits should be enacted in Canada."

Although the survey did not ask about carriers that charge to unlock phones at the end of a contract, many readers complained about that practice as well. "This practice is a thinly veiled attempt to lock a customer in beyond their agreed contract length," one reader argued.

"On termination of any contract, the provider must automatically unlock the cellphone at no cost, since both their subsidy and contract obligations are covered," argued Mark Heieis of Vancouver.

5. Tougher watchdog required

Once the new code of conduct is hammered out, it will be up to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services to administer it and the CRTC to enforce it. Asked how effective the new code of conduct would be, readers were skeptical, with a third saying it would not be effective, compared to 13 per cent who thought it would be "very effective." Most readers felt it would be somewhat effective (41 per cent) or were unsure (12 per cent).

"While I am happy that the CRTC is finally looking into the gouging that Canadians suffer at the hands of the 'might as well be monopoly' of the Big Three and their subsidiaries, I really don't think that any of them will care what the CRTC says or does," said Robert, 27, in Prince George, B.C. "It's just more profitable for them to keep gouging, unless the CRTC is given some serious teeth to fight the gouging on behalf of the consumer; I doubt that will happen, given the completely woeful telecom and Internet situation that this country and its government seem to allow." 

Nearly all respondents - 95 per cent - agreed that the CRTC should be given the power to fine wireless providers that do not obey industry rules.

Follow on Twitter: @diannenice

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