The CRTC is putting caps on extra data and international roaming charges to prevent "bill shock" and says Canadians can cancel cellphone contracts after two years without a cancellation fee, as part of a new wireless code of conduct it unveiled Monday morning.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission says its new code "will make it easier for Canadians to understand their contracts and sets out their basic rights." In a statement, CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said: "Every day, Canadians rely on wireless devices while in their homes, at their jobs, at school or travelling abroad."

"The wireless code will contribute to a more dynamic marketplace by making it possible for Canadians to discuss their needs with service providers at least every two years."

But because the new code will only come into effect on Dec. 2, 2013 and will only apply to new contracts for cellphones and other mobile devices, one industry expert says consumers should wait before queuing up for a new phone or signing a new contract.

"I think a lot of consumers, if they were thinking of going to the mall and picking up a new phone and signing a contract, they should think twice about doing so," Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, told CTV News.

The code comes out of public hearings held earlier this year, during which the agency heard from consumers angry about lengthy contracts, cancellation fees, roaming charges and other issues – something Stacy Walman can relate to.

She said she owed her cellphone carrier $1,885 after going over her data limit during a trip to Aruba.

"I nearly fell over," Walman said after she saw her bill.

According to Walman she had called her cellphone carrier ahead of time to purchase additional data but because she didn’t make the changes online, she was told by the company that they weren’t obligated to warn her when she neared her limit.

"They don’t tell you these things," Walman said. "If they don’t tell you, you don’t know."

The new code:

  • Says consumers can cancel their wireless contract after two years without paying a cancellation fee, even if their contract is for a longer term.
  • Caps extra data charges at $50 per month and international data roaming charges at $100 per month within one billing cycle to prevent “bill shock.”
  • Allows consumers to have their cellphones unlocked after 90 days, or immediately if the device is paid for in full.
  • Allows a cellphone to be returned within 15 days and specific usage limits if the customer is unhappy with the service.
  • Says consumers can accept or decline changes to certain elements of a fixed-term contract.

The code also requires that service providers "communicate with customers using plain language," and that contracts and other documents be "written in a way that is clear and easy for customers to read and understand." Key terms of a contract will also be summarized in two pages using large fonts.

The CRTC said wireless providers have raised concerns with putting an end to the common three-year contracts by setting the maximum amortization period for a device to two years.

Some industry experts noted that the two-year contract limit will limit consumer choices and could increase the upfront cost for a cellphone.

"Each carrier will make that determination," Bernard Lord, a former New Brunswick premier and current present of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Assocations said. Cellphone providers set their own prices, he said.

According to major cellphone provides such as Rogers, Telus and Bell – which owns CTV – they already fulfill many of the new requirements set out by the new code.

With a report from CTV’s Omar Sachedina