What You Don't Know Can Cost You
Got a cell phone? Unhappy with the costs or services of a big wireless carrier? If you're like many Canadians, you didn't know you're locked into using only your carrier's network - you can't just switch your phone to another company, even if you're not on a contract.
That's because your phone is "network locked" to work only on the cell network of the company you bought it from. Chances are, they didn't tell you that when you bought it.
Network locks, sometimes called "SIM locks" are used by phone companies to restrict consumer choice. We can't easily just jump to a different company if we want to try out a better deal elsewhere. For many consumers that might be dissatisfied with the prices they're paying or the service they're getting, it's not worth it to switch if they have to throw away their phone and buy a new one outright (at full cost) or sign another onerous multi-year contract. And the phone companies know this. They're counting on that lock to keep you paying them every month, whether you like it or not.
Would you let a car company tell you that you can only fill up at a particular gas station? Canadians shouldn't have to tolerate their phone company doing the same.
Cell Phone Locks: Restricting Your Freedom
Network locks are bad news for consumers:
- They restrict you from moving easily to a different carrier, meaning market competition is diminished. This means higher prices and worse service for Canadians.
- They stop you from switching SIM cards when you travel, thus forcing you to pay expensive international roaming fees if you want to use your phone abroad.
- They make it harder to sell your used phone as easily because it will only work on one network, restricting the used market.
Mobile phone customers should have the freedom to choose whether they want to be locked into a company's cell network or not, just like they can choose to sign a contract or not.
Introducing the Cell Phone Freedom Act
In other countries with more market competition, network locks are less of a problem. Either phones are sold unlocked, or the phone companies will unlock customer phones on request. At minimum, if a consumer pays full price for an unsubsidized mobile phone, they should be able to buy an unlocked handset. Or if a consumer has completed a multi-year contract with a company, they should be able to get their phone unlocked too. That's only fair.
A new bill to be introduced in the House of Commons levels the playing field for Canadian cell phone customer. The Cell Phone Freedom Act mandates that:
- Consumers buying new cell phones in Canada must be informed of the existence of any network lock on their phone before sale.
- Phone companies must unlock handsets upon request, free of charge, when a consumer purchases a new phone outright without a contract, or any time after purchase.
- Phone companies must unlock handsets upon request, free of charge, when a consumer comes to the end of their contract or at any time thereafter.
You can help ensure the Cell Phone Freedom Act is passed. Find out more in the Frequently Asked Questions page. Put a web badge on your blog (box ad to the right and banner ad below), sign the Petition for Cell Phone Freedom, write your Member of Parliament, or join the Facebook group and tell your friends.
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