Canada's first Internet Code provides consumers "certainty" around contracts, experts say

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter

Canada’s first Internet Code went into effect Friday, and industry experts say it will help consumers have more clarity and security when signing up for internet services. 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced in July 2019 that the code will offer Canadians easy-to-understand contracts, documents, and policies around service calls, outages, security deposits, and disconnections. 

It will also help Canadians have a better understanding of prices, especially for bundles, promotions, and time-limited discounts. 

Internet service providers (ISPs) will have to offer bill-shock protection by providing notifications when customers approach and reach their data-usage limits, and will have to let customers cancel a contract within 45 days without paying early cancellation fees. 

This code applies only to large ISPs including Bell, Cogeco, Eastlink, Northwestel, Rogers Communications, Telus, SaskTel, Shaw Communications, Vidéotron, and Xplornet. 

Ben Klass, a telecom expert and PhD student at Carleton University, said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada that the new rules “provide certainty across providers and make sure that for practices like signing people up for services, there are clear standards.”

“In the heat of the moment, when you’re signing up for a service, it’s often not really clear exactly what you’re getting... and I wouldn’t necessarily place the blame on the companies in all cases, and I also wouldn’t place the blame on the consumer,” Klass said. 

He said 45 days gives customers “a buffer,” allowing for their first bill to arrive and be reviewed before making any changes without incurring extra cancellation fees. 

When the code was announced, consumer advocacy group OpenMedia criticized the 45-day timeframe indicating that it was “inherently punitive to the customers, who if they’ve been given a different contract than they agreed to, are now forced to cancel and live without internet services on short notice.”

Klass said that this type of issue is something “where it’s going to have to be a ‘wait and see.’”

“If it becomes a real problem or we find out that there are a lot of people having problems with this, I would hope that the [CRTC] review it with an eye to revising it,” he said.

Customers who feel they’ve been wronged will have to file complaints with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS). Advocacy groups also criticized this, saying that it would require significant time and lots of documentation. 

Jacques Latour, chief technology officer of the Canadian Internet Registry Authority, said the only outlet customers had to complain is with their ISP, so it was important to have an outlet like the CCTS. 

“Having a separate organization that will actually take the case on and works with the subscriber is a great thing. It should be part of the customer support, the ISP should be focusing on this to be more proactive, and if they’re not it’s a great job to have a mechanism that allows people to complain.”

Klass said the CCTS in this circumstance acts as a “neutral third party to be able to resolve complaints.”

Klass’ main concern with the code is that it doesn’t apply universally, but only the large players. 

“It’s a big question mark over my head as to why they would not just make it apply across the board,” he said. “There’s a reason for having these types of codes, it is to create certainty for people so that if you have a problem with your internet service, you have recourse.”

CRTC spokesperson Patricia Valladao said in an email that the CRTC excluded small business from the code because there are "significant differences between individual and small business contracts, such as the length of the contract, the required equipment, installations, and other associated costs."

Valladao added that “small business customers can still file complaints to the CCTS."