Land lines are a dead technology.

People are increasingly realizing that it’s more practical to carry a phone with you all the time than to rush home agonizing over whether or not you missed an important call. With the proliferation of the mobile phone came the spread of providers competing for your business and until recently, companies have been taking advantage.

In 2013, that all changed when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a federal administrative tribunal responsible for regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications, created the Wireless Code of Conduct which explains your rights as a mobile consumer and the rules your wireless company must obey.

On June 15, 2017, the CRTC came out with new rules specifying the obligations set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct.

Here’s a crash course on the Wireless Code and what those rules are.

Your wireless service provider must communicate with you in plain language. Written contracts and any related documents such as privacy and fair use policies must be written in a way that is clear and easy to read and understand. That means that they cannot draft contracts and related documents in a way that would dupe you into agreeing to something most wouldn’t have had they fully understood it.

The terms of your contract regarding voice, text, and data services cannot be unilaterally changed without the account holder’s consent. You are allowed to cancel your wireless contract within fifteen days and return your device to the provider in near-new condition at no cost, provided that at the time of the cancellation you used less than half of your monthly usage limits.

Wireless providers have to set out the prices in the contract and specify if they include taxes. They cannot charge you extra if you purchased a plan with unlimited services and they cannot limit an unlimited plan unless the fair use policy clearly specifies when they can and those conditions are met.

Your wireless provider must notify you at no charge when your device is in another country and clearly explain the ensuing rates for talk, text, and data. You can opt out of these notifications at any time. They cannot charge you more than a hundred dollars per monthly billing cycle for data roaming unless you have clearly given prior consent, and this billing cap must come at no charge to you, the consumer.

For data overage charges – data used over your data plan’s limit – the rules set the cap at fifty dollars unless you expressly consented to paying more. This cap cannot come at any charge to you.

Where family or group plans are concerned, these caps apply on a per-account basis regardless of how many devices are attached to the plan.

No More Locked Devices

Your wireless company cannot charge you for any device or service you did not expressly purchase, and as of June 15, 2017, unlocking fees are now illegal.

The aforementioned fees are what cell phone companies would charge to unlock your phone should you try decide to switch wireless providers. That means that before the CRTC’s decision, if you chose to switch wireless providers, you couldn’t just swap out the sim cards and keep using your current device. You would have to pay your old company a fee to unlock your phone.

Wireless providers justified the charges as a way of ensuring the device was paid for should the consumer decide to switch providers before the end of their contract. The CRTC has decided that this is illegal as it puts an unfair limit on competition between wireless providers.

As per the CRTC’s ruling as of December 1, 2017 you have the right to go to your wireless provider and have your devices unlocked free of charge. Any new devices you get must be provided to you unlocked from now on.

If your device is lost or stolen and you notify your wireless company immediately, your wireless provider must suspend your service at no charge. You’re still obligated to pay any charges incurred before the company got notice that the device was lost or stolen, the monthly fee, and if you choose the cancel the contract, any cancellation fee. If you find your device or replace it, you can notify your service provider who has to restore your service free of charge.

If you decide to cancel your contract early, the company can only charge you a cancellation fee. No other penalties apply and wireless companies have to calculate the cancellation fee based on criteria set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct. You can cancel your contract at any time by notifying your service provider.

Penalties for the Providers

Now let’s say your wireless provider does not obey the Wireless Code; what do you do? What kinds of penalties will the company face?

If your Wireless Service Provider does not respect the Wireless Code, you can file a complaint with the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, which is charged with administering it. If the complaint falls within their mandate, they’ll get in touch with your provider and ask them to try and resolve the matter with you and get back to them in thirty days.

Once the provider gets back to them, they’ll try and assess if the issue has been resolved to your satisfaction. If it hasn’t, the Commissioner will assess if the issue can be resolved informally. Your complaint can be rejected or dismissed at any stage of the proceedings.

If the Commissioner decides your complaint has merits, they can recommend that your provider take action or refrain from doing so. This can include anything from an apology to stopping collections activity, to compensating you up to five thousand dollars for any losses or inconvenience suffered.

Both you and your wireless provider can decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. If your provider rejects it, the Commissioner will assess the reasons and make a decision as to whether to maintain or modify their recommendation. If the decision is accepted by you, it becomes binding on your service provider. If you reject the Commissioner’s decision, your service provider does not have to obey it.

It’s not an ideal solution, as it’s a long process to try and get fairness from wireless providers all too ready and willing to take advantage of consumer naivete, but at least there are checks in place.

A cell phone is a modern necessity. Don’t get screwed by the providers.

* Featured image by John Fingas via Flickr Creative Commons

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been in the news lately over its announcement to loosen the rules requiring Canadian television productions to have pre-dominantly Canadian talent. Despite the CRTC’s claim that allowing productions to have more foreign artists will open the door to new talent and have more International and Canadian co-productions, Canadian artists like the members of the Canadian Guild of Professional Screenwriters are criticizing the move as having long term negative financial and cultural repercussions for Canada and its artists.

To most of us, the CRTC is that annoying organization that issues fines and cuts Canadians off of those great Superbowl Ads. It’s the government body that keeps Canadians stuck with sometimes inferior quality TV shows due to Canadian Content requirements established by law that force networks to reserve a certain amount of airtime to Canadian productions, be they ads or shows.

But the CRTC is also the body that helped keep great shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce, Kids in the Hall, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Nikita on the air for as long as they were.

Why does the CRTC do this?

They are required by law.

The CRTC is the government body responsible for enforcing, among other things, the federal Broadcasting Act and Canada’s anti-spam laws.

The Broadcasting Act sets out the broadcasting rules and policy for all of Canada, specifically with regards to television, radio, and any other means of broadcasting programs and ads. According to the Act, Canada’s broadcasting policy includes that the Canadian broadcasting system be effectively owned by Canadians, that said system operate primarily in English and French, and defining the system as a public service for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing Canada’s national identity and cultural sovereignty.

The Broadcasting Act also says that the Canadian broadcasting system should “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” by providing programming that reflects Canadian opinions, attitudes, ideas, and values.

According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, The CRTC consists of a maximum of thirteen members named by the government for a term of five years with a possibility of re-appointment. Members have to work on the committee full time and cannot become a member of the CRTC if they are not Canadian citizens or ordinary residents of Canada.

They also cannot be named to the CRTC if they have a conflict of interest because they are involved in a telecommunications firm directly or indirectly as an owner, shareholder, director, officer, or partner OR if they have any financial interest in a telecommunications company or are involved in the sale or manufacture of telecommunications apparatus. The law does provide for an exception to the latter rule if the telecommunications stuff being sold is an incidental aspect of a retail or wholesale business which a potential member is involved in. Where a potential Commission member has a forbidden financial stake they can still be named to the CRTC provided they get rid of said stake within three months.

The current chairman of the CRTC is former Montreal lawyer Jean-Pierre Blais whose term ends in 2017.

In order for the CRTC to enforce Canada’s broadcasting policy, it has been granted various powers by the Broadcasting Act.

The main powers are control over who gets a broadcasting license and the ability to make regulations regarding everything from ensuring that Canadian programs and ads get a certain amount of airtime to setting what constitutes a Canadian program.

It’s their discretion over what constitutes a Canadian program that is now coming under fire. Canadian programs and co-productions are eligible for federal government money which by extension comes from Canadian taxpayers.

A production that does not qualify as Canadian as per the definition set out by the CRTC is not eligible for federal funds.

The current eligibility requirements for a production to count as Canadian are high, resulting in more Canadian screenwriters, actors, and directors hired for Canadian television shows. The CRTC’s proposal is to lower those requirements, opening the door to more non-Canadian talent at the expense of Canadian artists.

The obvious counter argument is that it should be the best person for the job, but if the law says that the goal of the Canadian broadcasting system is to work for the benefit of the Canadian people and present their point of view, government funds should go to productions that employ a lot of Canadians.

To do otherwise would result in the CRTC violating the very law that empowers it.

There was a time when Bell Canada had a monopoly on telecommunications in this country. That may have changed decades ago, but it’s clear they still haven’t gotten over it.

Sometimes this comes out as frustration at no longer being the only game in town. Try ordering internet through a third party ISP that has to use Bell’s lines and technicians. When the Bell rep activates the service and tells you in no uncertain terms that they will only do the one thing they have to, no more, it will become clear that this is a company which still yearns for the good old days.

Sometimes, though, it seems like top executives are in denial about the company losing its former dominance. This “it’s still the 70s” mentality is most apparent when it comes to technology that didn’t even exist 20 years ago.

Shaming Canadians for Accessing US Netflix

Yesterday new Bell Media President Mary Ann Turcke asked the public to shame those who used VPNs to access the American version of Netflix. She also lamented media articles that she called a virtual how-to on unlocking Netflix content not officially accessible to Canadians.

I wish they were comprehensive how-to guides. Then they would include free options like Hola, which is available as a Chrome extension and takes less than a minute to set up. You simply click it when you’re on Netflix and identify which country you’d like to be virtually visiting from. It also works on other sites which employ geo-blocking just as easily.

Screenshot of in action

These articles also don’t mention Media Hint which turns an entire browser, usually Firefox, into a US-based surfing device. Recently they’ve only made their service free on a trial basis, but supporting them financially isn’t the worst thing you can do.

It’s Not Stealing If You Paid For It

The most galling part of Turcke’s statement is that she equates getting around geo blocks with stealing. Her messaging hearkens back to commercials from a few decades ago that argued illegally accessing cable and satellite signals was basically the same as shoplifting.

Now, if she was talking about illegal downloads or streams from pirate sites, she would have a point. I’m not going to get into a piracy debate now, only to say that her narrative would be consistent if she was talking about Pirate Bay, but she wasn’t, she was talking about Netflix, something people pay for.

Canadian Netflix clients pay the same per month as those in the US, but because of geo blocks, they have access to a fraction of the content. There’s no option to buy the American version.

How can you be stealing something if there’s no option to buy it? But, in this case, you did buy it.

Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator - Friday June 5, 2015
Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 5, 2015

Imagine walking into a store, paying for a case of beer and as you walk out the door, the clerk realizes it’s 11:10 pm and in Quebec, where you are, there are supposed to be no beer sales after 11.

In this scenario the store could be in trouble for selling alcohol after it is legally allowed to, but you did nothing wrong. While that point can be debated (did you know it was after 11?) one thing that is absolutely clear is that you did not steal the beer. You paid for it and were entitled to walk out of the store with it.

If you pay for Netflix and access US content, you are not stealing. Period.

Turcke’s statement is just a desperate attempt to make people who have committed no crime feel guilty. Canadian media conglomerates, with help from the CRTC, already tried to go after Netflix. That didn’t work because Netflix is doing all it can to prevent virtual border jumping.

Geo blocking is unenforceable as those circumventing it are committing no crime. They’re not stealing. They may be breaking paragraph whatever, subsection something of the Netflix user agreement, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t enforceable by federal law.

So Bell has resorted to public shaming. Problem for them is there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and everyone outside of the Bell bubble knows it.

Old Media Models Need to Go

When you access US content in Canada with a VPN service, you aren’t taking food off the table of content producers, directors, performers or crew. The only thing you’re doing is forcing giant companies like Bell into the 21st century.

When television content needed to be carried across great distances by conventional means, it made sense to have local distributors. Online, though, there is no need. Sending a friend who lives a few blocks away a Facebook message is just as easy as texting, even though your question about where you are meeting that night bounces to and back from a server in California before reaching its destination.

There are no natural geographic barriers on the internet, only those we impose on ourselves. The Canadian old media business model of buying US content and then redistributing it for profit is quickly disappearing. Likewise, the concept of selling content to distributors for specific markets needs to be done away with, too.

No More National Media

A few months ago, I argued that Canadian media companies should focus on producing original programming instead of paying to re-distribute US content. The biggest argument against this idea whose time has come is the fact that they would never be able to compete. The US is too huge a market.

If you see the entire population of media consumers in all 50 states as one block and Canadian media consumers as another, they’re right. However, if the media model no longer called for national distribution by a network that broadcast to an entire country, then the size of a particular national market would no longer matter.

A drama about hockey, for example, produced in Canada, may not get “picked up” by a major American network as a distributor (because people in Nashville and Tampa don’t really care about hockey cc: Gary Bettman), but could build an audience in this country and in major American markets like New York, Boston and Washington, plus in parts of Europe. If the model was one source distributing online to the world, that source would do very well.

Stuck in the Old Ways

Instead of trying to be that source of innovation, Bell would prefer stick to the old ways. Along with their Canadian media conglomerate compatriots, they rolled out sites like Shomi and Crave TV and called them Netflix competitors. Problem is they aren’t competitors at all because you need to first get a cable package before signing up.

shomi crave tv netflix

Either they just don’t get what people want or they chose to be oblivious to the reality of the current global media landscape. Either through ignorance or arrogance, they are acting like the old Bell who had a monopoly. Now, though, they want to make you feel guilty about not buying into their view.

I could go on and on, but I think I’d rather marathon Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, available on US Netflix.

In what some are describing as the most brazen move   of his political career, Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted in a Parliament Hill news conference earlier this evening that he is, in fact, a cyborg from another planet sent to earth many years ago to get on the airwaves and slowly bore the populace to death.

“I felt that I had to come clean,” Harper told the stunned Ottawa press corps, “I mean, after all, transparency in government is a big thing with voters this year.” He followed this explanation by stripping down to his actual appearance, which, to no one’s surprise, looked more like a robot from the 1950s then a cool Terminator-esque cyborg.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that it was surprising considering he was about to make a similar admission later this week while the NDP’s Jack Layton was quoted as saying: “figures, we all know he wants to replace the Canadian worker with robots.” Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe brushed off the revelation as a non-story, arguing that if it didn’t mean more money for Quebec, then he just plain wasn’t interested.

No one is sure just what effect this will have on the Conservatives’ re-election chances. Personally, I don’t think it will hurt them at all, considering (if you haven’t figured it out already or just want it to be true) it’s a total fabrication. No, not an April Fool’s joke, but pure and simple bullshit.

We may be seeing more of the same coming from established and not-so-established news sources in the near future if our newly un-closeted cyborg and the CRTC have their way. In less than 48 hours, the government regulator may pierce a huge loophole in the “fair and balanced” rule (the actual rule in Canada, not the FOX news trademarked slogan) that “would require any complaint to include proof that the broadcaster knew that the news was false and that the lies spread could endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”

So, let’s say, for example, Sun News (or FOX News North as it has come to be known), whose Canadian launch suspiciously coincides with the potential passing of this loophole, wants to say that no one showed up at a protest against, say, the mission in Afghanistan when in reality there were thousands. Is the report false? For sure. Did the producers and reporters know it was false? Yup. Did it endanger the lives, health or safety of the public? Well, not the public here at home, at least, so it passes.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little flare in reporting. In fact, I took great joy in creating that little scenario at the beginning of this post. I also firmly believe that unbiased journalism is a fantasy. In fact, this site is riddled with bias, as is FOX News and its soon-to-be Canadian offshoot. The main difference here, is that we, at the very least, get the facts right and don’t outright lie. Spin and opinion are a completely different ballpark.

At the very least, a national “news” network like Sun and any major media should be held to the same standards as an independent website. If you feel the same and want to let the cyborg and the CRTC know, then please sign the petition at Time is running out.

When you’re up against the big boys like Bell and the CRTC, you only have a few options: make your point loud and clear (check), create a petition (check), convince the politicians that they want to be on the side of the people (check) and, last but most certainly not least, get funny and entertaining. The last option is about to become a reality with the help of a little Gurl Power!

When the CRTC decided to allow internet service providers (ISPs) like Bell to implement usage-based billing (UBB) and pass additional bandwidth charges along to smaller competitors, they not only made it possible to put a meter on the internet but also paved the way for giant communications companies to end the possibility of unlimited web access and effectively the net as we know it.

This can’t stand, and currently it’s not. A group called Open Media launched the Stop The Meter Campaign and a petition that currently has over 420 000 signatures, and counting. Politicians took note, too, first the NDP, then the Liberals and eventually even the Conservatives came out against the decision, the latter forcing the CRTC to go back to the drawing board.

Just what they will draw up is not yet certain and if their drawing is completed when it isn’t an election year (nothing official, but we know that one’s coming), who knows what it will look like. It could even be worse! We can’t give up the fight!

Since the internet belongs to all of us, not just the ISPs and their government backers, it’s time to make sure that no one forgets that an internet meter can never happen. The best way to do this, we at FTB feel, is with a real catchy tune!

We’ve re-purposed the Spice Girls’ hit Stop and made a video to go along with it. If you support this cause (if you’re a fan of this site, or being able to go where you want online in general, then you already do), then please share this video and this post as widely as possible and if you haven’t already done so, sign the petition! The very future of the internet as we know it may depend on it.

Now, without any further adieu, Forget The Box and Open Media are proud to present…

The Site Gurls singing Stop The Meter!