CRTC bans cellphone unlocking fees, orders all new devices be unlocked

Posted
June 16, 2017

The era of having to pay cellular providers to unlock your cellphone will end this year.

As of Dec. 1, cellphone customers can ask their provider to unlock their phones free of charge, the CRTC announced Thursday. At the same time, it said, all newly purchased mobile devices must be provided to customers unlocked.

"It's a big step forward," said Rose Behar, senior reporter for the tech site MobileSyrup in Toronto.

Telecoms often order locked phones from manufacturers that are programmed to work only with their service. Then they charge a fee — typically $50 — to unlock the phone if a customer wants to switch providers.

"Essentially a locked phone did keep consumers tethered to their service provider," because they faced paying a fee to flee, said Behar.

"Now there's going to be so much more flexibility in being able to jump from plan to plan, from carrier to carrier. That will likely spark more competition."

The unlocking fee has always been unpopular with customers. It has even been referred to it as a "ransom fee."

When the CRTC reviewed its wireless code earlier this year, it invited the public to comment online. Many took the opportunity to gripe about unlocking fees.

"Now after paying for the phones we are held ransom to unlock them to go to another provider. Totally ridiculous," stated one person. "Excuse me, but I own the phone."

"That's called a 'Ransom Fee' or 'Hostage Fee' in any other business," wrote another individual. "It is unbelievable how the government allows these companies to extort money like this!"

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