Encouraged by industry and consumers alike, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (“CRTC”) has officially entered the battlefield of regulating consumer contracts for cell phones and other wireless services.  In October 2012, the CRTC initiated a public consultation to establish a new national code for wireless services. Following a written phase of the consultation, the CRTC held a public hearing in February. In advance of the hearing, the CRTC published a draft wireless code for public comment on January 28, 2013 (the comment period ended February 15, 2013.)

The provisions of the draft Wireless Code would require such things as minimum disclosures to be made on key terms in wireless service contracts, limitation of early termination fees and disclosure of what is really meant by an “unlimited plan” – among many other issues. These requirements would be enforced by the existing Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, which is a non-governmental third party dispute resolution organization. The Commissioner could require a non-compliant service provider to explain, apologize, undertake to do or cease specific activity, or even pay a consumer up to CAD$5,000.

To rewind a bit, Quebec was the first province to foray onto the cell phone contract legislative scene in 2010. Quebec was quickly followed by Manitoba, Newfoundland and Ontario. While each province gave the issue slightly different flavours, all took on this issue from a consumer protection standpoint.

Perhaps to mitigate any prospect of “dueling jurisdictions”, the CRTC’s Wireless Code has expressly accounted for this provincial legislation through an interpretation clause which provides that the Code must not be interpreted in a way that prevents a consumer, “from benefiting from any other federal or provincial law or regulation which is more favourable to the consumer.” If this approach is ultimately adopted, the Wireless Code will be akin to a safety net for consumers to fall back on if it is determined that a given provincial law does not offer as favourable benefits to the wireless consumer.