It’s time to ban phone unlocking fees

28 Nov

Good news if you’re an iPhone owner with Bell or Virgin – the carriers will reportedly unlock that bad boy for you. Of course, with this being the Canadian cellphone industry, there are many caveats to go with that. One is, you have to own the phone outright, two is that you can’t be on contract and three is that you can’t be a prepaid customer. Oh, and it’ll cost you the tidy sum of $75.

Bell and its subsidiary are finally joining its Big Three cohorts, Rogers and Telus, in offering the “service,” although the company looks to be alone in charging such a hefty fee. Telus recently cut the cost of its iPhone unlock to $35 from $50, which is what Rogers still charges.

Why is Bell’s fee higher? Hey, buying sports teams and broadcasters doesn’t pay for itself, y’know?

All three carriers began offering unlock services on other devices some time ago, after politicians starting making noises like private members’ bills that would prohibit locking in the first place. The iPhone and its hefty cost, meanwhile, has evidently been a special case till now.

As the $75 fee attests to, it’s time for politicians and regulators to go further. There is simply no reason why carriers should charge subscribers anything for unlocking devices they’ve already paid for. It’s a blatant anti-competitive fee designed to discourage customers from switching carriers, or to ding them one final time when they do.

That goes double for subscribers on contracts – they’re already bound by termination fees if they break their agreement early, in which case they should have immediate and total access to and ownership of their device. Refusing to unlock their device is just an extra kick in the pants.

This is an aspect of service that the Canadian Radoi-television and Telecommunications Commission should definitely address in its current effort to create a wireless code with the public’s input. If anything, the regulator should follow the lead of countries such as Chile, Singapore, Greece and Israel, which have outlawed the act of locking phones in the first place.


Posted by on November 28, 2012 in bell, iphone


18 responses to “It’s time to ban phone unlocking fees

  1. Marc Venot

    November 28, 2012 at 12:23 am

    What is the policy of the small (foreign owned) players like Mobilicity on this subject?

    • BT

      November 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Mobilicity isn’t foreign owned.

      If you’re going to take a cheap shot, at least take it at the correct provider.

  2. Fee Fi Fo FUm

    November 28, 2012 at 1:48 am

    After our contract is over and the subsidized price has been recovered by the telecartels with room to spare, the phone should totally belong to us. They could easily set up an online unlocking service that would cost them nothing to operate and we shouldn’t be charged a dime.

    I’m surprised they don’t have an administrative fee combined with the unlock fee. Plus the regulatory recovery fee (used to fight off anyone lobbying for free unlock, A.K.A. the CRTC payoff fee), the sports franchise purchase recovery fee, the CEO bonus fee, the Just Because We Can fee, the Fee Collection fee, the …

    • bela nagy

      December 4, 2012 at 9:46 am

      and because there is going to be a bill printed when you pay all these fees, the 2 dollars paper/printing fee

  3. Sol

    November 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I’m sorry, are you suggesting that the CRTC should operate to protect the interests of the Canadian consumer?

    It’s like your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.

  4. Ben

    November 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Over at the “Wireless Code” consultation website, this seems to be one of the major concerns of commenters. Hopefully Blais listens up!

  5. twylalalala

    November 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Oh come on, we all know an iPhone without a subscription is nothin but junk. SO why bother unlocking it for them? Besides, if I wanted to have my iPhone unlocked, I’d go to eBay.

    • aodime

      December 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      I can give you two good reasons:
      1) Look to the poor gentleman who was awarded “Canada’s Biggest Cell Phone Bill” by the CBC a year or so ago – about $15,000 charged to him by Bell for data roaming charges. Ludicrous, especially if you consider the service cost Bell no more than $15 to provide. Had his phone been unlocked, he could have used a pay-as-you-go service through one of the phone companies abroad and saved himself a massive amount of money.
      2) If, after my abhorrently long contract is up, I want to switch to another provider without losing my phone, I’d need that phone to be unlocked. It is absolutely criminal that Bell should charge anything for that “service”, let alone $75. It’s totally inappropriate.
      What is truly inappropriate is that the government has apparently made no attempt to actually protect consumers from such disgusting practices.

      • bela nagy

        December 4, 2012 at 9:51 am

        not sure you need an unlocked phone when you port your number….

  6. Douglas Gladstone

    December 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I think locking the phone in the first place should be illegal. Afterall, you have to sign an agreement that you stick to the carrier for a certain period of time anyway when they give you the phone at a discount, and there is a penalty for breaking the contract early. Why hold the device hostage too? Outrageous.

    My advice to people is to just not purchase carrier-provided phones ever.
    They are all pre-infected with spyware anyway.

  7. Randy

    December 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I own my LG phone and Bell owns the service………..It costs me 75.00 dollars to tell them I don’t like their pay as you go service……….They charge 40.00 dollars for their monthly service, that I buy in 50.00 dollar increments. They gouge me long distance at 45 cents per minute. They run their business to make pay as you go customers outcasts in their system. Pure arrogance…..,

    • bela nagy

      December 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

      I pay 35 dollars for unlimited talk, text, data, US/Canada long distance at Mobilicity

  8. TS

    December 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I travel outside Canada and I wanted to get my phone unlocked so I could use a local sim card and then pop my Rogers card in when I return. I’d pay a fee to unlock my phone if I had to but I’m still on contract. Why should I need to pay for my phone outright if I’m still on contract? Doesn’t the contract subsidize the cost of the phone? If I have an unlocked phone and I break the contract I have to pay for it. So what’s the trouble with having an unlocked phone?
    Locking a device should be made criminal. Lets lock down TV’s so that when I need a new one I’m forced to buy it through Rogers and then when I move to another region I can pay them to unlock it so I can use it as I’ll still be on contract. Just sell the dam device to me unlocked right off the bat. I’ll pay for the device. I should be able to choose where I buy the device then too.

    • bela nagy

      December 4, 2012 at 9:53 am


  9. aodime

    December 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    So, tell me, what do we do about it? I agree full heartedly that the CRTC seems to have been suspiciously absent from administering the industry adequately. Something really needs to be done about the horrendously long contracts, ludicrously high prices, as well as the handset locking – which serves absolutely no useful purpose other than limiting consumer options. Canada truly is the worst, most expensive country in which to own a cell phone, and that is most definitely not because of our nation’s size.
    Might I suggest a follow up article with a call to action for readers? Contacts within the CRTC and Government which people could write to in order to communicate their discontent?

  10. Scott

    December 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I am traveling to Europe this year and Rogers REFUSES to unlock my iphone unless I buy out my contract!! You can be sure that the minute my contract expires, that will be the end of Rogers in my life!

    • aodime

      December 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      I only wish I could honestly tell you that you’ll have it better elsewhere. All I can say is I’m very glad that I ponied up and bought my iPhone outright and unlocked directly from Apple. I’m contract–free with Fido(owned, unfortunately, by Rogers) and am about as happy as is possible in the Canadian prairies. It is quite an investment to buy the phone outright, but the truth is that I save money over the long term, all with the benefits of not being locked into a contract and having an unlocked phone. Well worth it, in my opinion.

  11. paolo

    December 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    they made such of unwanted restrictions and for this sort of abuse of power they want to be paid when customers want to choose to have another carrier. this is a shame that CRTC have to address for and to give a signal to those unregulated telephones companies

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