Big changes are coming to Canada and the European Union in terms of mobile phone plans. In Canada, the CRTC (telecommunication regulator) has announced that anyone will have the ability to have their mobile devices unlocked free of charge. That starts in December of this year. At that time, anyone buying a new device will also come unlocked. Why is this happening? In February during a review, it was found that telecom companies are making a ton of money unlocking devices. Currently, it will cost you about $50 Canadian to get your phone unlocked. This is good news, right? In all likelihood it is, but will this mean higher monthly rates for everyone just so the companies can make up for the loss? A $37.7 million annual potential loss, that is.
This doesn’t come as a surprise as the CRTC has been working to make it easier for consumers to make choices. In Canada, the telecom industry is highly regulated with not a lot of options when it comes to service providers. Therefore, forcing consumers to pay a premium for service. While it might not be a monopoly, it is very close to one in some cases. There is very little competition when it comes to mobile phone plans. Most companies offer big discounts, but only when you have 2 or 3 services with them. TV, internet and mobile phone. Which is all fine and well, but it doesn’t save the consumer nor give any choice.
The move to have phones unlocked from day one is a big step forward. Companies would often order the phones locked by the manufacturer, so it would only work from their service. For example, if your service was with Rogers, you had to have a “Rogers” phone. I couldn’t give my old iPhone to my Mother to use, unless she was also using the same service provider as me. Making it next to impossible to utilize old devices. But it’s also interesting that then the company would charge you to unlock it. So if you wanted to go somewhere else, you would get charged an unlocking fee. In many cases it’s not worth it, because you can get a phone for free (or very inexpensive), and it’s new.
Another interesting feature has to do with shared plans. Let’s say your 17 year old child has a cell phone that you pay for. They are talking to their friends a lot and start to go over their limits. Previously, the cell phone “owner” (for lack of a better term) could consent to those overages. Not necessarily the account holder. Now, the account holder must be the one to consent to those overages. But only if the overage is $50 or more. Which is a good move, but maybe $50 is a bit much. Perhaps you could limit the overage to an amount so that you’re not leaving someone hanging in the event of an emergency. But you’re also not forcing a $50 overage on someone without their consent.
I’m droning on a bit much about the Canadian changes, as I am most familiar with those.. and they affect me the most. But, the EU now has legislation that abolishes roaming charges when in other EU countries. The new legislation is called “Roam like at Home”. I’m a bit confused as the legislation aims to abolish roaming charges, but it sounds like you might still have to pay or utilize part of your monthly allowance towards roaming. Maybe that just means minutes and I’m not up with the European lingo for mobile phone plans. That being said, even if the fee is flat, you’re still much farther ahead than if you’re paying out of pocket each time you use the phone in another country.
But like with anything there are a few caveats. There are a few countries that aren’t part of the EU, and therefore you still have to pay the roaming fees if you’re in those countries. Some companies are threatening to increase prices for your local plan in order to compensate for the reduced earnings. Which is likely going to happen in Canada as well.
Regardless of the downside to some of these new policies, overall these are great moves for the consumer. Especially in a highly regulated country like Canada, where we want to see less red tape. In the EU, this is incredible as it means that you won’t be over paying for roaming when you enter into another Country. I honestly wish that Canada had this type of agreement with the United States as roaming fees can be ridiculous when travelling south of the border. You can purchase data plans that give you so much data per trip. But it’s hardly worth it as the amount of data you get is so little. I’m interested to see how this will play out in terms of having an unlocked phone. Where will I be able to buy my next phone if I don’t have to buy it through the mobile service provider?