OTTAWA – Repressive cellular phone network locks need to end in order to give consumers real choice and to encourage competition in Canada’s wireless market, say New Democrats Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) and Fin Donnelly (New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody). The MPs re-introduced the Cell Phone Freedom Act on Thursday to ban “network locks” on new mobile phones sold outside of contract.
“Cell phone customers should have the freedom to choose whether they want to be locked into a company’s cell network or not,” Hyer said, after introducing the bill in the House of Commons. “Right now, most consumers don’t even know they can’t switch to another network without throwing out their phone and buying a new one …or trying to unlock their handset at some expensive aftermarket shop. Many resort to trying to download complicated instructions off the internet, but these can result in dead phones if used improperly.”
“Consumers who come to the end of their service contracts or who buy their handsets outright have fully paid for their phones,” said MP Fin Donnelly after he seconded the bill. “The phone belongs to the consumer, and the service provider should not be able to restrict them from choosing other service providers. That’s bad for consumer choice, and bad for competition.”
Just three big telecom companies control close to 95% of the Canadian market. Unlike most other industrialized countries, virtually all new mobile phones in Canada are locked to work only on the network of the service provider selling them. A lack of effective competition in the Canadian marketplace has allowed the practice to continue. Canada is one of the only countries that does not have any rules around network locks, also called “SIM locks”.
“The Cell Phone Freedom Act mandates that consumers must be informed of the existence of any network lock on new phones they buy,” Hyer said. “Moreover, consumers should be able to ask that their handsets be unlocked if they choose to pay full price for the phone, when buying it outright without a contract. And when a consumer ends a multi-year contract with a company, they should also be able to get their phone unlocked, free of charge. This legislation will ensure consumers have that freedom. Restrictive cell phone locks should no longer be used as a tool to restrict consumers from moving to more competitive providers, or to artificially restrict competition.”
The MPs launched a petition in support of ending network locks. A related Facebook group called Cell Phone Freedom: Stop Restrictive Network Locks currently has over 600 members.