The devil you know: wireless providers ask for CRTC oversight of consumer terms

April 10, 2012

In an unusual development, the CRTC has initiated a proceeding that may lead to possible re-regulation of the terms and conditions for the provision of wireless services to consumers.  Even more surprisingly, the proceeding is in part the result of an application by a wireless service provider that requested that the Commission step in to regulate some aspects of currently deregulated wireless services.

In its Notice of Consultation, the Commission is first seeking comments on whether the conditions for forbearance have changed sufficiently to warrant CRTC intervention in the development of a national retail wireless services code.

The development and implementation of a CRTC-approved wireless consumer code would be a marked departure for the Commission, which has, for the most part, consistently taken a hands-off approach to regulation of the wireless industry, imposing very few obligations on the provision of wireless service.  Current requirements are limited to safeguards such as protecting the confidentiality of customer information, ensuring non-discriminatory access to networks, requiring transparency and neutrality with respect to management of internet traffic and providing enhanced 911 service.

 Since the first licensing of wireless service providers in the early 90’s, the CRTC has been of the view that the wireless market was sufficiently competitive to protect the interests of users with respect to almost all aspects of wireless service.

However, two recent applications have requested that the Commission regulate some of the terms under which wireless services are offered by consumers.  One application seeking CRTC intervention was from consumer groups; however the other actually originated from a wireless provider, and was supported by other members of the wireless industry.

Faced in recent years with new consumer protection laws in a number of provinces which directly or indirectly impact wireless services, such as Québec and Manitoba, some wireless providers are seeking a single national consumer code that would provide uniform obligations across Canada.

Comments as to whether it is appropriate for the CRTC to become involved in the development of such a consumer code are due by 3 May 2012.

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