Canada's third-largest cellular provider is asking the federal regulator to wade into the controversy about wireless contracts and set minimum national standards before provinces across the country create a patchwork set of rules.
Telus Corp. is in part trying to get out in front of provincial efforts to regulate dealings with wireless customers – measures that have already spawned legislation in Manitoba and Quebec.
The Vancouver-based company is betting that basic national standards would deter provinces from trying to outdo each other with interventions in this area, which could create a jumble of different regulations from coast to coast.
The company has written the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requesting the regulator to hold public consultations to hammer out national standards.
"Telus considers that it would be a tremendous benefit to all consumers if there was one simple, transparent and enforceable set of terms of service that apply to wireless contracts regardless of where you live in Canada," said Michael Hennessy, Telus's senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs.
The challenge for Telus is that it's asking the CRTC to exercise dormant powers the regulator stopped using more than a decade ago. The commission used to pervasively regulate terms and conditions for wireless services but pulled back substantially in the late 1990s.
"We have asked the CRTC to use the powers it has to set terms of service in telephone markets and to hold a public proceeding where both consumers and the provinces can provide their views," Mr. Hennessy said.
John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer protection group, said he believes the Telus request is aimed at trying to avoid harsher treatment at the hands of the provinces.
"They're eyeing these provincial regulations coming up and they really don't like them," Mr. Lawford said.
Quebec and Manitoba have passed legislation that sets rules for wireless contracts. Quebec's amendments to its consumer protection law, which took effect in 2010, capped the fees that could be charged for breaking contracts. It also limited the right of wireless companies to unilaterally change contract terms and conditions.
The Manitoba legislation (which has not yet been proclaimed into law) allows customers to cancel a contract before end of term, prohibits "unreasonable" cancellation fees, and stops charges for service that is unavailable because of damaged or defective equipment.
In Ontario, a private member's bill on cellphone contracts is working its way through the legislature and is billed by its sponsor, Liberal David Orazietti, as "the most far reaching protection in Canada for consumers of wireless services."
Bernard Lord, president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said his organization has been exploring the matter but hasn't endorsed anything yet. Still, he said, he sees merit in the idea of uniform guidelines for wireless contracts.
"If there are to be any standards, they should be national and the same from coast to coast to coast so consumers, regardless of whether they live in New Brunswick, Ontario or Nunavut, would be subject to the same rules – and the carriers as well," Mr. Lord said.
"That would simplify the situation rather than having 13 different sets of rules."
Patricia Trott with Rogers said they backed Telus's suggestion. "We certainly support the idea of setting out national standards that make it easier for customers to do business with service providers and offer consistency so that Canadians know what to expect no matter what part of the country they live in."
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