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Why it's ridiculous that Canada's Big Telecom giants are going to Federal Court to delay new cell phone rules

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As you probably know, the Big Three mobile providers, joined by SaskTel and MTS, have announced they are taking on the CRTC and Canadians in court to delay much-welcomed changes to cell phone contract lengths.

Why? In response to popular demand from Canadians, the CRTC created rules that will limit contracts to two years. They set the unambitious and entirely reasonable start date of December 2013 for all new contracts and June 2015 for all existing contracts. Despite the fact that Bell, Rogers, and Telus are making record profits and were given two years to prepare, they’re still determined to lock Canadians into expensive contracts as long as they can.

Whining to the Federal Court of Appeals in an effort to delay contract changes that put Canada on par with our global counterparts shows just how out of control Big Telecom’s sense of entitlement has become.

Here’s what you need to know:

Despite Big Telecom’s claim that they are merely trying to ‘clarify’ the new rules, their court challenge will affect a lot of people. If they get their way, every Canadian who has signed up to a cell phone contract in the last year, or who intends to sign one before December, will be forced to remain in that contract beyond June 2015, or pay a hefty cancellation fee. This clearly goes against the letter and spirit of the CRTC’s new rules.  

It’s also entirely reasonable for wealthy telecom giants to find a way to comply with the rules by June 2015 -- but it gets worse. Internet policy expert Michael Geist points out that the big cell phone providers themselves told the CRTC they should be able these new rules “within two years”. Jean-François Mezei (@jfmezei) also pointed out on Twitter how Big Telecom likely hopes the delay will help them impose three-year contracts through the busy back-to-school and pre-winter holiday periods when new high-demand phones will become available.

In other words, despite their record profits, the big cell phone providers just decided that they suddenly can’t comply in time because they want to retain control as long as possible.

There’s broad consensus that the big cell phone giants really stepped over the line by trying to delay changes that will benefit all Canadians. Even the Prime Minister weighed in against Big Telecom, posting a large graphic on his Facebook page saying: “Canadians should be allowed to cancel their cellphone contracts after two years without cancellation fees.”

In a way this new affront on Canadians by Big Telecom isn’t surprising. Long-time OpenMedia.ca community members will know how Things Big Telecom Says rarely match up with reality. Our own Steve Anderson exposed how Telus long ago lost its credibility with its clumsy use of old data in a failed attempt to undermine complaints about their service.

Catherine Hart debunked another false claim, explaining how high cell phone bills have nothing to do with the size of Canada. But going to federal court to delay rules crafted with citizen input (they even had to name “members of the public” in the motion they filed) is a new low even for Big Telecom.  

Again and again, we see how Big Telecom’s false claims reveal their appalling sense of entitlement -- due no doubt to the decades of government coddling they’ve benefited from. Their court case may be bad news, but in many ways it also marks the final gasp of the old-fashioned, high-cost, closed model of telecommunications that the Big Three represent.

Canadians are speaking up and demanding better and we’ve seen this movie before. Canadians have laid out a clear road map forward for our wireless future. We worked with Canadians and experts across the country to put it and the larger Time For an Upgrade report together, and we hope the Industry Minister has read it as promised and is ready to move forward.  It’s time to open up our networks to all Canadians and new service providers.

There’s now a rapidly growing consensus that we need to look beyond Big Telecom’s closed, old-fashioned model. Canadians of all political stripes are moving on and looking forward, determined to build an open digital future for all of us. The big cell phone providers had a chance to listen to Canadians. They’ve missed that opportunity and now it’s time for them to relinquish their control over our communication networks.

As we move forward to fix our broken cell phone and telecom market we recommend Canadians hold off until December to get a new cell phone to ensure you can benefit from the new two year contract limits. If Big Telecom is successful in their court case those who sign up before December might be stuck in a restrictive contract until nearly 2017.  

You can send our plan to fix our broken cell phone market to your MP HERE.

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