On Monday 29 Apr 2013, the Ontario government re-introduced
consumer protection legislation affecting the wireless (cellular) industry.
There is no doubt that the industry could do with a little regulatory
oversight in the areas of contract clarity, billing practices and service charges,
most notably cancellation fees, all areas addressed in the proposed legislation.
On 01 May 2013, similar legislation came into effect in Nova
In both cases the powers behind the legislation are touting the
limit of $50.00 to consumers when they cancel any future contracts with a
carrier. (Sorry, the rules are not retroactive and will not apply to existing
In some cases, this is may well be an accurate statement; in
other cases it will not be. Let me explain.
There are two distinct parts that come into play for the
majority of consumers when they enter into a contract. The first part is the
subsidy or economic incentive provided by the vendor and applied to the cost of
the phone they provide. They provide a phone at a reduced price or free in
return for signing a fixed term contract, usually three or occasionally two
years. The second part is the revenue expected by the vendors from the consumer
over the length of the contract. Historically, carriers based the amount
charged to cancel a contact on the amount of time left on the fixed length contract.
The cost of the phone was not a major part of the calculation in most cases as
it was folded into the monthly service costs.
The new legislation separates the two parts and makes them
in effect two separate transactions. The $50.00 limit only applies to the
second part; the amount of time left on the contract. The new rules still allow
the vendors to recover the amount of the subsidy or economic incentive provided
with the phone.
I have not seen the
Ontario formula but the Nova Scotia one appears straight forward. This is from the
government's Access Nova Scotia website:
"… Nova Scotians can
now cancel their contracts at any time and the government will limit what
cancellation fees can be charged. There are three possible scenarios:
- If you were given a phone for free or at a
reduced cost when you signed up for a fixed term contract, the
cancellation fee will be based on the value of the phone, divided over the
remaining term of the contract.
You received a $300 phone at no cost when you signed a three-year (36 month)
contract. You cancel the contract after one year (12 months). The maximum
cancellation fee is $200: 300 - (300x12/36) = $200
- If you were given a phone for no cost or at a
reduced rate when you signed a no-term contract (no fixed term), the
maximum cancellation fee is divided by a 48 month time period.
You received a $300 phone at no cost when you signed a no-term
contract. You cancel the contract after 12 months. The maximum
cancellation fee is $225:
300 – (300 x 12/48) = $225.
- If you were not given a phone as an incentive
for signing a contract and are using a phone you provided yourself, the
maximum cancellation fee is $50 or 10 per cent of the remaining cost of
the contract, whichever is less."
It is unclear to me whether or not the $50.00 service cancellation fee is included in the calculations. Regardless one could still receive a rather
large bill for cancelling a contract early. Yes, it is less than the $400.00 to
$600.00 charged before but it is still significant.
And guess who gets to set the
initial value of the phone? Would it surprise
you to learn that the vendor sets the basic value number used in the calculation?
I checked the EastLink website and found only two smartphones that retail for less than the $300.00 used in the example. The majority were between $500.00 and $700.00. This would double the prices quoted in the government produced example.
Even with the new
legislation coming into effect across the county, I still feel the best deal is
to buy a phone outright, get it unlocked and then sign up for service. Yes, I know it can be pricey, but there are a lot of good deals available in the used phone marketplace. Also, there are a number of advantages of having an unlocked phone, especially if one travels.