Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wireless hearings continue

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MONTREAL -- The hot-button issues Canadians have with cellphone contracts -- roaming fees, ability to unlock handsets and three-year contracts -- will get another opportunity to be heard this week.

The CRTC will hold a week of public hearings starting today on its proposed wireless code. The regulator is aiming for a set of national standards for the content and clarity of cellphone contracts.

In the lead-up to the hearings, Canadians have again made it clear they don't want three-year contracts offered by wireless carriers.

"Eliminate three-year contracts," said a comment submitted by a user identified as Celli041 on the online forum for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission's draft wireless code.

"Eliminate onerous processes that make it harder to get out of a contract and go elsewhere for cellphone services."

The CRTC has said it heard a lot of "anger" from Canadians about three-year contracts when it was putting together the draft version of the national code for wireless services, released last month.

So far, the CRTC hasn't taken up the idea to get rid of such contracts and has instead dealt with such issues as early termination fees, allowing the consumer to cancel service at any time.

Telecom analyst Iain Grant said the CRTC should ban three-year contracts because they don't foster competition and prevent consumers from easily moving to another carrier.

"You lock them in and you get them into some sort of auto-renewal cycle forever," said Grant, managing director at the SeaBoard Group.

"What does that do to a vibrant marketplace?"

He also said it makes it htougher for new wireless companies like Public Mobile, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity to win customers.

Grant said the CRTC has chosen to "treat the symptoms and not the disease," noting Canada is the exception with its three-year cellphone contracts while two-year contracts are the norm in the United States and Europe.

Consumers can also get stuck with aging devices.

"In the land of technological innovation, which is the smartphone world, three years is an eternity," Grant said.

A participant in the CRTC's online forum agreed. "Maximum two-year contracts," wrote Yeti.

However, consumers don't always like paying up front for their iPhone, Android or BlackBerry smartphones.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 B5

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