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Canada bans locked phones as it looks to make switching carriers easier

In a review of Canada's Wireless Code of Conduct, which debuted in June 2013, the country's telecom regulator has made two important changes that will potentially lower the cost of ownership and make it easier for consumers to switch providers.

In a statement, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced, as of December 1, 2017, the end of unlocking fees for Canadians with existing devices and, perhaps more significantly, a mandate that all new devices as of that day will need to be sold unlocked, even if purchased from a carrier on contract.

As of December 1, all Canadians will be able to request an unlock code for a locked phone from their carrier at no charge — currently, the Big Three providers charge between $35 and $50 for the service — which will allow it to be used on any competing network, domestically or while traveling abroad. It will also easily allow customers to switch carriers and bring their compatible phone over to a new one should they desire. What isn't being said, though, is that many phones being sold at the carrier level today, including the Google Pixel and upcoming Essential Phone, are unlocked out of the box from the manufacturer. Other devices, like the Galaxy S8, are sold unlocked and become locked to the first SIM card inserted in the phone.

Switching to a different network will also be simpler under the new rules because customers will be able to cancel service contracts within 15 days while paying no penalties for phone restocking, something that the first draft of the Wireless Code tried to address but, according to consumer advocacy groups, didn't go far enough.

Unlocked phones may be going away, but carriers will still pursue phone exclusives to differentiate themselves.

Given that the vast majority of Canadians pay one of three companies for mobile service, all of whom share a number of similarities in network speed, coverage, device availability and plan costs, this is more a convenience than anything else, but current return policies limit handset returns to 30 minutes of talk time and 50MB of data use, an absurdly rapacious set of numbers.

One of the most important changes to the Wireless Code is also going to be the least talked-about: secondary line users will no longer be able to consent to overage charges without the permission of the primary account holder. This means that parents will be able to supervise and approve roaming or data overage charges on a per-line basis, fixing an oversight in the first Wireless Code draft that caused millions of dollars in unnecessary fees. Primary account holders will still be able to let secondary lines approve overages, but it will be an opt-in process.

The existing overages of $50 for domestic and $100 international roaming are still in place, but the CRTC has explicitly stated that they apply to one's entire account, not an individual line holder. For big families that share data plans, this may lead to limits being hit, and overages needing to be approved, far earlier in the billing cycle.

This will make it easier for Canadians to leave the carriers they love to hate.

Since its inception in 2013, and its strict enforcement in 2015, the Wireless Code has been criticized for allowing wireless carriers to continue raising the cost of service within the existing rules. Advocacy groups believe that without a robust MVNO market, where carriers sell wholesale access to their networks to smaller companies in a model popularized by broadband internet, Canadians will be forced to continue paying a high price for their monthly service. Carriers justify the prices by saying that, Canada being a huge country, network upgrades and maintenance are more expensive than anywhere else in the world, but critics point to a lack of competition keeping prices high.

The Wireless Code doesn't mandate pricing, and these new changes, while admirable, don't address the core issues of competition within the Canadian wireless market. Still, being able to move devices more freely, and having penalty-free service trials, will make it easier for Canadians to shop around, which may have the effect of lowering complaints against the companies Canadians love to hate.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

50 Comments
  • Are you sure you don't mean "bans locked" phones? Banning unlocked phones seems to be the opposite of what this article is about.
  • No, Canada has banned phones. It's back to paper and pencil for you!
  • two solo cups and a length of string
  • Empty Tim Horton's cups - with the rim rolled up and 'Please try again'
  • So phones being banned somehow eradicates all other mobile technology? Interesting xD
  • Thank god, we won't be able to see the brain gymnastics that are trump tweets! I pitty you americans with that **** as your leader...
  • Yeah it's an embarrassment haha.
  • He's not my leader.
  • Canada bans locked phones...
  • Canada bans comments.
  • Comments bans Canada
  • In Russia, comments ban you!
  • What a typo...
  • What tpyo?
  • Alternative typos
  • Unless it changed since the comment was made, the title is correct. "Canada bans locked phones" is correct. Carrier locked phones are no longer allowed, and that's a good thing.
  • Fake typos
  • Sweet
  • This is great news
  • Until you realize the carriers will need to recoup the $37 million they made from charging unlocking fees last year.......
  • This^. Exactly. This will end the same way 3 year contracts did.
  • That headline was definitely confusing before it was changed, but good move Canada! Now everyone else needs to follow their good example.
  • It be wonderful unless they jack up the pricing as well
  • YESSSSSS
  • Kween???
  • How dare government interfere with business!!!!!!11111FAUXRAGE Way to go Canada!
  • Carriers will make up for financial losses in other ways. For every action there is a reaction.
  • If only Russia would've influenced this decision, then all phones sold in Canada would be locked. I call this "The Thing A Majority Do Not Want". Covfefe.
  • You guys know what he meant. Stop it.
  • Covfefe
  • Very covfefe
  • Either way it's awesome
  • Didn't the US already ban locked phones? Or is Verizon just nice enough that they started selling all their phones unlocked?
  • Verizon just sells unlocked except for their prepaid I believe
  • And AT&T will unlock your phone for free once it's paid for. Not sure how it is with all the other carriers.
  • I put my S7 on Tmobile while a device payment plan was active on it with Verizon, had absolutely no lock which surprised me.
  • I thought​ it was a law for all carriers that was passed couple years ago.
  • Verizon was legally required to sell their phones unlocked as a condition of their license to use a particular LTE frequency band. Other operators who don't use that particular band don't have any such limitations on phone locking.
  • They could ban carriers from locking phones in the USA. But then the carriers would just turn around and disable premium features such as wifi calling, VoLTE, and mobile hotspot on all devices not purchased from them. They would figure out how to make it back somehow.
    We're screwed regardless.
  • The US could learn from this.
  • US doesn't learn.
  • Did we all forget carriers have to unlock after lease or contract is fulfilled? Or here is another idea, buy unlocked in the first place.
  • After lease? I thought you had to turn it in
  • Whatever you want to call it. Monthly payments, contracts, shenanigans. I don't do it.
  • Not sure where you're commenting from, but that certainly hasn't previously been the case in Canada, and I'm pretty sure it isn't true (in general) in the USA either. The phone stays locked:
    1) forever, or
    2) until you pay the carrier to unlock it for you, after meeting their other eligibility requirements, or
    3) until you pay a 3rd party to unlock it for you, or
    4) until you hack the phone to eliminate the lock yourself
  • In the US carrier must do it for free after contract is up of pay ETF. http://www.zdnet.com/article/as-new-law-comes-into-effect-carriers-can-n...
  • Great idea! Starting December 1st every phone you but will be unlocked in the first place.
  • Sadly, won't happen in the U.S., as long as telecomm companies are allowed to buy politicians and keep them in their back pockets.
  • About time...we do it like that in Israel since 2015 P.S. Plus, you cannot make a payment commitment to a carrier... All data and cellular services are on a monthly basis without penalty fees for switching carriers.
  • Great news. Consumers need a WHOLE LOT more transparency and fairness regarding telecom carriers. AT&T has 60 PAGES of legal bullshit to read and sign in the US and some of it is signing away your legal rights. Provide a service and clearly state the price without a document more complicated that marriage!