NDP pushes Rogers to unlock cell phones

Lisa Mayor

Cell phones are becoming an integral part of day-to-day communications. With all the drama surrounding cell phones and the convergence of Rogers and TBayTel over the past few months, it seems a fitting time to bring up just one more issue regarding cell phones. Local MP Bruce Hyer and the NDP have called on major cellular phone carrier Rogers Communications to unlock cell phones, and hope that Telus and Bell will follow suit.

What most people don’t know is that when you sign a contract with a cellular phone carrier, that device is locked into their system. This essentially means that the phone cannot be used with any other carrier. This “lock” is often referred to as a “network” or a “SIM” lock, and Canada is the only developed country where this is customary.

With your phone being locked to a network, you are unable to just switch carriers if you are unhappy with your plan, want to sell your used phone to someone who is not on that network, or switch SIM cards if you want to travel (thus forcing you to pay expensive roaming fees).

In short, this cell phone lock prevents consumer choice. Bell, Telus and Rogers control 95% of cell phones across our nation. In Thunder Bay we have, in essence, one choice: Tbaytel.

Because of these locks, Canadians pay among the highest rates for cell phones, have the least choice in carriers, and experience the worst service of all developed countries. In fact, Canadian cell phone companies were given “Fs” in customer service by the Better Business Bureau.

The NDP says that unlocking cell phones will level the playing field for carriers. They are proposing a bill that will increase competition and choice in the cell phone market in Canada. Bruce Hyer says the motives for the bill include lowering costs and increasing usage of cell phones in Canada, “ensuring that customers understand their options in advance and are not only being treated fairly but feeling that they are treated fairly.”

Hyer also says he is “very happy Rogers has agreed to take the first steps to comply with the Cell Phone Freedom Act. This is a first step to increasing options for consumers, and to increasing competition which will lower prices and improve service for Canadians.” Rogers has said they will unlock phones after contract expiry, for a fee. The NDPs believe that other companies will follow suit to stay competitive.